Climate Action

Drawing the Line: Setting a Better, Healthier Ozone Standard

Most people know about the Ozone hole, the thinning stratospheric ozone levels above Earth’s Polar Regions, but fewer know about ground level ozone. On October 1st, the EPA will be finalizing updated ground level Ozone standards using new research regarding public health and ozone. What does this mean and where should we stand? Ozone Status Quo Ozone, or O3, is an inorganic molecule that makes up a pungent, pale blue gas that is also known as smog. It is formed naturally when UV light strikes an oxygen molecule, but can also be formed as a byproduct of industry and human activities. The biggest sources of ozone pollution are fuel combustion from factories and motor vehicles, as well as fossil fuel extraction processes. We want ozone in our stratosphere— it protects from harmful solar radiation— but not in our troposphere. In the troposphere, at ground level where people can breathe it in, ozone poses a big danger to the human body. Ozone is measured in ppm, or parts per million. The current standard for ground level ozone stands at 75ppm, which is a number determined using research from 2006 and earlier. Many health organizations are pushing for a stricter standard of 60ppm, citing new studies as recent as 2014 that show ozone’s impact on respiratory and cardiovascular functions. Who should be worried? If you ever plan on going outside or growing old, you should be worried about ozone in the air. Ozone pollution matters to everyone. According to the American Lung Association, ozone pollution exacerbates asthma and other lung diseases, decreases lung function, and increases the risk for heart attacks and a type of cardiac arrhythmia linked to premature death and stroke. People with lung conditions, seniors, and those who frequently work or exercise outdoors have greater health risks associated with ozone intake. The consequences of breathing ozone are especially harsh for children, who have small airways more susceptible to dangerous swelling and breathe in air at a faster rate than adults. Ozone also effects vegetation and forest ecosystems during the critical growing seasons. Several tree species including the black cherry and ponderosa pine are sensitive to ozone and are negatively affected by increasing ozone levels. On the macro level, these adverse impacts harm the biodiversity and habitat quality of these ecosystems, and can alter the nutrient cycles in given area. We Are What We Breathe Ozone highly mobile pollutant— once produced, it can travel hundreds of miles, across several state borders. This isn’t a problem that can be solved on a state by state basis. We need the EPA to realize the risks of associated with higher levels of ozone, especially in urban areas, and issue a strict nation-wide standard of 60ppm. This standard not only protects public health, but also publicizes information and educates us about the dangers of ozone and air pollution. Curbing sources of ozone pollution benefits both the public and the environment, and would be another big step towards a sustainable future.   Julie Hu, Intern