Ozone has the same chemical structure whether it occurs miles above the earth or at ground-level and can be “good” or “bad,” depending on its location in the atmosphere.
In the earth’s lower atmosphere, ground-level ozone is considered “bad.” Motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents as well as natural sources emit NOx and VOC that help form ozone. Ground-level ozone is the primary constituent of smog. Sunlight and hot weather cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air. As a result, it is known as a summertime air pollutant. Many urban areas tend to have high levels of “bad” ozone, but even rural areas are also subject to increased ozone levels because wind carries ozone and pollutants that form it hundreds of miles away from their original sources.
“Good” ozone occurs naturally in the stratosphere approximately 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface and forms a layer that protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful rays.
Ozone is beneficial in the stratosphere because it protects the earth from harmful solar radiation. Ground-level ozone is the primary ingredient in smog, and causes poor health effects. Ground-level ozone is created by a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle exhaust and industrial and natural sources emit the NOx and VOC that help form ground-level ozone.
Numerous scientific studies have linked ground-level ozone exposure to a variety of problems, including airway irritation, coughing, pain when taking a deep breath, inflammation, aggravation of asthma and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and permanent lung damage with repeated exposures.
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