The Good Ozone
Good ozone is a gas that occurs naturally in an upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere referred to as the stratosphere. In fact, 90% of the earth’s ozone layer is located in the stratosphere. This stratospheric ozone is 6-30 miles high above the ground. Natural ozone creates a protective shield from the sun’s damaging rays onto the earth. Ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, can create a host of health issues, such as skin cancer, cataracts and immune system impairments, if UV exposure is too high. Ozone is also commonly used in mold remediation and as an effective means of odor control.
In our modern technologically advanced society, man made activities have been depleting our ozone layer faster than ever. As our protective ozone shield becomes compromised, more UV radiation makes its way to the earth’s surface. Increased amounts of UV rays are exemplifying the detrimental effects on human, animal and agricultural welfare.
The Bad Ozone
Bad ozone is a gas that exists in the closest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, the troposphere. This ground level ozone is a pollutant that creates damage to human respiratory systems as well as the environment. These ozone-depleting substances (ODS) consist of chemicals including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and is the main contributor to smog. These gases come from vehicles, industrial facilities, electric utilities, gasoline vapors, as well as chemical solvents.
How Does the Bad Ozone Hurt the Good Ozone?
As human activity releases ODS into the troposphere, these harmful chemicals can remain in the atmosphere for years. The troposphere begins at ground level and extends about 6 miles until it hits the stratosphere. The harmful substances can move through the troposphere and up into the stratosphere. There the sun’s strong UV rays break them down, releasing molecules of chlorine and bromine that eventually destroy the good ozone. Scientific research estimates one human-introduced chlorine atom has the ability to destroy 100,000 natural good ozone molecules.
Health Effects of Bad Ozone
Since bad ozone is a pollutant, inhaling it can cause health problems. Some of the symptoms of ozone exposure include coughing, congestion, throat irritation, and chest pain. Bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema can be aggravated due to ground-level ozone exposure.
Environmental Effects of Bad Ozone
Bad ozone does not only cause adverse effects to human health, it also causes environmental problems. ODS can greatly damage the ecosystem, vegetation, agricultural crops, commercial forests, and tree seedlings. In the United States, an estimate of $500 million worth of crop reduction is brought about by bad ozone each year. In addition, scientists believe that even ocean phytoplankton can be affected. Since it is the base of the marine food chain, its detriment could also affect larger aquatic life and food supplies for humans.
Fighting for Good Ozone
180 different countries, including the US, have acknowledged the threat of depleting stratospheric ozone and are determined to protect it. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was established to phase out the manufacturing and usage of ODS. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has prohibited both nonessential uses of ozone-depleting chemicals and releases of refrigerator or air conditioning refrigerants into the air. Substitutes are in the development process. And if these efforts continue to eliminate ODS, a return of our protective ozone layer is estimated for 2050.
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(2010) Ozone. Retrieved August 26, 2010. http://www.ozone.org/