OZONE IS A GAS FOUND IN THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE. WITHOUT IT, OUR PLANET WOULDN'T BE INHABITABLE. BUT IT IS ALSO INCREASINGLY BEING FOUND AT LOWER ALTITUDES WHERE IT DOESN'T BELONG.
See, there are two types of ozone. One is good, and one is bad. One is created naturally as ultraviolet rays penetrate oxygen in the earth's atmosphere, and one is man-made, a by-product of chemical reactions in combustion engines and chemical refineries.
"Ozone is the most damaging pollutant in the world," said Evgenios Agathokleous, a professor of environmental resources at the Institute of Ecology at Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology in China
Ozone is made up of three oxygen atoms, and it occurs naturally in the upper layer of the earth's atmosphere, acting as a shield to filter out harmful UV rays from the sun. This 'good' ozone makes our planet inhabitable. It makes it safe for us to go outside in the sunlight and keeps temperatures within livable ranges, supporting various ecosystems that make up life on this planet.
But ozone has also been found at ground level, where we live, and it's not supposed to be there. This 'bad' ozone has a harmful effect on human health and the environment. It can irritate the respiratory system causing persistent coughing. It can make it difficult to breathe comfortably, raising your respiration rate. And it also reduces crop yields, cutting into our food supply. Bad ozone, or simply 'smog' can cause permanent lung damage in both people and animals.
WHERE DOES OZONE COME FROM?
"I OFTEN ENCOUNTER COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO CONFLATE TWO VERY DISTINCT PROBLEMS: THE HOLE IN THE OZONE LAYER AND GREENHOUSE GAS-MEDIATED GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE. THESE TWO PROBLEMS ARE NOT AS DIRECTLY RELATED AS MANY THINK." FREDERIC BEAUDRY, AN EDITORIAL CONTRIBUTOR FOR TREEHUGGER AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT ALFRED UNIVERSITY IN NEW YORK, EXPLAINS.
Good ozone, or stratospheric ozone, is naturally produced when light enters the atmosphere. But it is being depleted by pollution that is released into the environment, and many researchers believe that pollution created by industrialized nations is taking more ozone from the stratosphere than can be naturally replaced, leaving life on earth vulnerable. For decades we have been observing a growing hole in the ozone layer.
Bad ozone at the ground level is created by the very same pollution that is creating a hole in the good ozone layer. It comes from chemical reactions created during manufacturing processes. As we refine soybeans to create food additives for preserving and flavouring commercially prepared food products, we're polluting the environment. As we process metals to manufacturer modern consumer electronics, we're polluting the environment. But that's not all–as millions of cars drive our highways burning fossil fuels, more ozone pollution is created.
WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
"I THINK IT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT [QUESTION] TO THINK ABOUT: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM DECREASES IN TRAFFIC POLLUTION?" SAYS JENNA KRALL, A STATISTICIAN AND AIR POLLUTION EXPERT AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY. "IT WILL GIVE US MORE INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT THESE POLLUTION MIXTURES COULD LOOK LIKE [WITH] FEWER PEOPLE DRIVING."
One opportunity that we've recently had to understand the impact of man-made pollution in regards to good and bad ozone came as the world hunkered down for the global COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in modern history, commuters stop filling the highways in big cities, and in many cases, big smog-producing factories shut down.
While the world is embracing more sustainability ranging from innovations in clean energy to making conscious efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, it's a large-scale change that we need to better understand. What will be the impact of ending our dependence on fossil fuels? We're still crunching the numbers, but the immediate impact of fewer drivers on the road didn't seem to have as much of an impact on pollution levels as researchers had hoped. In Los Angeles, pollution was down 15%over rates from the past five years, but most other urban areas saw less significant numbers.
The problem is that the biggest contributors are semi-trucks and buses. Many states, including California, have passed emissions standards to regulate the trucking industry. But electric motors with the horsepower to pull big loads are still out of reach. The big goal right now is to replace fossil fuels with net-zero carbon alternatives in transportation, manufacturing, and big utility consumers like data centres.
OZONE CAN BE BOTH GOOD AND BAD DEPENDING ON THE ENVIRONMENT.
In the upper layers of the earth's atmosphere, it's helpful. But at lower altitudes, it can be corrosive and harmful. What's worse is that the same industrialization that is creating bad ozone is also depleting good ozone. Clean energy to power transportation and manufacturing is the current focus of science and engineering. With the right technology, hopefully, we can put a stop to ozone pollution and truly begin living more sustainably as a species.