Ground-level ozone is a combination of high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitric oxides (NOx), created by a chemical reaction in the presence of sunlight. VOCs are found in products such as cosmetics, paints, fuels, and the like, some of which can be dangerously toxic. These compounds are also continuously being released by trees in small amounts. On the other hand, NOx are gases released from vehicles of all kinds, and other materials that utilize fuel for their functioning, such as lawn mowers, manufacturing units, etc. The creation of ozone from a reaction of these gaseous compounds is called ground-level or 'bad' ozone. The good ozone (or the ozone layer) is what is found above the earth's surface, that protects us from UV radiation. This bad ozone is what is found in the troposphere, that is closer to the earth's surface, and is known to be harmful for human beings and other life forms on the earth, if inhaled in excessive amounts. Here, we will discuss the implications of ground-level ozone pollution, and what we can do to contain these rising levels.
Consequences of Ground-Level Ozone Pollution
Ground-level ozone pollution is most common in urban areas due to the kind of lifestyle that is led by their residents. Heavy dependence on various modes of transport, along with the use of high-end products that contain huge concentrations of VOCs, contributes to this condition. Studies have shown that this type of pollution can have long-term and dangerous health effects on human beings and other life forms. These effects have been enlisted below.
➝ Continuous exposure to ground-level ozone can slowly begin to irritate your respiratory system, and cause conditions such as tightness of the chest and cough. The respiratory system then becomes weaker and more prone to other respiratory diseases.
➝ Those who already suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma, may find that these worsen over time due to over exposure to pollutants such as ground-level ozone. This is because ground-level ozone also consists of other allergens, dust particles and pollen, all of which are known to aggravate asthma, and can even induce allergies.
➝ The lung functioning is weakened over time, causing inflammation of the lungs. When exposure to this pollutant continues, it can worsen the lung condition, lead to the development of chronic lung diseases, and even lead to permanent damage of the lungs.
➝ Such effects occur only in the long term, not immediately. For instance, even conditions such as asthma may flare up days after continued exposure to ground-level ozone.
While these were the human health effects of ground-level pollution, there are also environmental effects of this kind of pollution. We're all aware of the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. Ground-level ozone pollution only contributes to this further, enhancing the pattern and speed of climate change, and will contribute to some very harmful global conditions such as rapid decline of trees and plants (because of their inability to absorb the large amounts of carbon dioxide in the environment), if not checked immediately.
How We Can Reduce the Effects of Ground-Level Ozone Pollution
Experts all over the world suggest that unless measures are taken at a global level, no major changes in the condition of the environment or pollution levels will be visible. We, however, may contribute in a small way in reducing ground-level ozone pollution and its long-term effects. Though it may not make a large-scale change, it can definitely mark the beginning of a new lifestyle and thought process. So here are a few ways by which you can contribute.
➝ Start by first protecting yourself, by avoiding stepping out on days when air pollution levels are high. These levels can be determined by the excessive heat outside, as well as by checking the levels established on local health department websites. Only if you are safe, will you be able to contribute to the necessary change.
➝ Become proactive and promote the use of public transport rather than personal vehicles. Implement carpools, so that lesser number of vehicles are used. Suggest other methods of transport such as walking and cycling. Adopting these measures even once a week will make a huge difference to the pollution levels in the long term.
➝ Try and conserve as much energy as you can. For instance, at home, don't use lights unless really needed, and try drying your clothes in natural sunlight instead of the dryer. Do the dishes instead of using the dishwasher. Use an electric lawn mower or use manual methods of mowing your lawn (this also contributes to a great deal of exercise which is healthy for you).
➝ Begin a tree plantation drive in your locality. Even if not trees, contribute by growing more plants in your area, so that they may help in some way to reduce local pollution levels.
Finally, spread awareness and lead by example, so that people around you also adopt these measures. Ground-level ozone pollution is only likely to increase unless preventive measures such as the ones mentioned above are adopted. Be proactive and be the difference you wish to see.