Lazy, hazy days of summer often mean ozone pollution.
It’s summer, and the days are hot and hazy. These conditions are ideal for the formation of ozone in the atmosphere. Unlike most other air pollutants, ozone is actually made by the action of sunlight on hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, and oxygen in the atmosphere.
We cannot point to a particular industrial facility and say, ‘There go the ozone polluters.’ In fact, we should point to ourselves because most of the hydrocarbons, and a significant proportion of the oxide of nitrogen in the atmosphere, come from the exhausts of the internal combustion engine – our automobiles. These exhaust gases move with air masses and end up in someone else’s community where, under the influence of strong sunlight, they form ozone. We get Detroit’s ozone premix, Grand Bend gets ours.
Ozone is a powerful disinfectant. In fact, it is being used more and more in drinking water treatment plants to reduce our dependency on chlorine. Unfortunately, this power can impact agricultural food crops, like white beans, damaging tissue it comes in contact with. Similarly, if significant levels of ozone are breathed, it can attack the lining of our lungs. Even relatively low ozone levels, 50 parts per billion, can affect some very sensitive people, typically the young, the old, and folks with breathing disorders, like asthma. This health concern, and the fact that ozone levels have not been dropped over the last 20 years, is why the government is trying to find ways to reduce the ozone.
What can we do about it? We can drive less and make sure that our vehicles are properly tuned. That would largely help people downwind from us. Folks in Lambton County must hope that the trans-boundary movement of ozone-forming substances from the U.S. will also be reduced.
One word of caution for those who think that staying indoors working on their computer is the answer to avoiding ozone. Those printers, which rely on very high voltages to function, may emit ozone 10 times higher than that found outdoors.
Often we find the air indoors of poorer quality than outdoors. The best advice is to become well informed on the available indicators like Air Quality Index in weather apps or online at Air Quality Ontario and to enjoy the great outdoors sensibly.
For more information on this topic or any other nature-related subject, contact us.
Written by Ron Denning
* Thanks to the Sarnia Observer who originally published this series and granted LWI permission to use it online.