Ground level ozone is believed to be the most ubiquitous air pollutant and
the cause of much injury to the biosphere. Ozone is a toxic gas which is formed
by a reaction between air pollutants and sunlight. While the ozone layer in the
upper atmosphere protects you from ultraviolet rays contained in sunlight,
ozone that forms near the ground is a health hazard. Ground-level ozone affects
the respiratory system and can be especially harmful to very young people,
elder people, and those people with chronic lung disease.
The button above will take you to a map of current ground level ozone map for the U.S.
Although we have some control over sources of some of the ozone producing air
pollutants, we have no control over the heat and sunlight that turn those pollutants into ozone.
Near the ground, ozone is formed in a three step process.
Gasoline, paints and solvents evaporate, releasing reactive organic compounds.
Cars and factories burn fossil fuels, releasing nitrogen oxide gases and reactive organic compounds.
Heat and sunlight trigger a chemical reaction between these emissions, transforming them into ozone.
Many people think that industry alone is responsible for ozone air pollution. In fact,
citizens are responsible for a significant percentage of the air pollutants
that lead to ozone smog. These pollutants come from our cars, lawn mowers, boats
and the oil based paints and cleaning products we use at home. Motor vehicle
emissions are the single greatest contributor to ground level ozone pollution.
Determining the levels of ground level ozone in your area will lead you to
ask research questions that allow you to do your own research project on ozone. Let's
begin by asking some questions that will help focus our research.