Tropospheric Ozone

Ozone (O3) in the troposphere, air at ground-level, is a pollutant, a constituent of smog. Many highly energetic reactions produce it, ranging from combustion to photocopying. Often laser printers will have a smell of ozone, which in high concentrations is toxic. Ozone oxidises readily producing many possibly toxic oxides.

The majority of tropospheric ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as xylene, react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. NOx and VOCs are called ozone precursors. Motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents are the major sources of these chemicals. Although these precursors often originate in urban areas, winds can carry NOx hundreds of kilometers, causing ozone formation to occur in less populated regions as well.

Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and/or an uncomfortable sensation in the chest.

Ozone can reduce lung function and make it more difficult to breathe deeply and vigorously. Breathing may become more rapid and shallow than normal. This may limit a person's ability to engage in vigorous activities.

Ozone can aggravate asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor's attention or use of medication. One reason this happens is that ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, the most common triggers of asthma attacks.

Ozone can increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Ozone can inflame and damage the lining of the lungs. Within a few days, the damaged cells are shed and replaced much like the skin peels after a sunburn. Animal studies suggest that if this type of inflammation happens repeatedly over a long time period (months, years, a lifetime), lung tissue may become permanently scarred, resulting in permanent loss of lung function, and a lower quality of life.

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