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Ozone - Our best friend is slowly becoming our greatest enemy.

Often we have heard this - The ozone layer helps us live by blocking UV Rays from the Sun which can cause skin cancer and other problems. And that is true as well. But there is more to it. The ozone - Our great friend , is slowly becoming our greatest enemy.

Ohh Okay , I get this ! The ozone layer is depleting which can cause UV Rays to enter the earth and cause problems. Right ?

No. That's not all. The ozone that protects us can also kill us. Everything in life has its own place, right. Now that is true for ozone as well. Generally the ozone that we talk about is the ozone layer that protects us. But there is another type of ozone - that has the potential to indirectly kill us.

What is it?

Its Ground Level Ozone. The ozone that stays in the ozone layer can also be found on the ground level areas these days. This is unwanted ozone. The ozone that we need is the one that is there in the ozone layer. The ozone found on the ground level areas is in turn a pollutant. Now that might be shocking to see at first. But that is how things actually are!

First let's make this clear. The ozone found on the ground level areas is the same molecule that is found in the ozone of the ozone layer. The main problem is its place. The ground level ozone has the potential to cause many harmful diseases. Some of them are :

  • difficulty in breathing deeply and vigorously

  • Cause coughing and sore or scratchy throat

  • Inflammation and damage of the airways

  • Aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis

  • Increase the frequency of asthma attacks

  • Make the lungs more susceptible to infection

  • Continue to damage the lungs even when the symptoms have disappeared

  • Cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Ozone also damages cotton, acetate, nylon, polyester and other textiles, synthetic materials, causes cracks in rubber, accelerates fading of dyes, and speeds deterioration of some paints and coatings. In addition to that it also deteriorates forest vegetation, and affects crop yield. Ozone is the primary constituent of smog in urban areas. It also alters atmospheric activities such as evaporation rates, cloud formation, precipitation levels, and atmospheric circulation. As we know ozone is a greenhouse house thus absorbs heat radiations and increases the temperature thereby contributing to global warming.

How is this formed at the ground level ?

Now this is something interesting. The ozone that we find at the ground level is actually the result of the reaction of two other pollutants. The Nitrogen Oxides and Volatile Organic Compounds that we release after burning of fossil fuels are the culprits behind this. The Nitrogen Oxide reacts with the volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and stagnant air to make ozone. Hence, the amount of ground level ozone is high on hot and humid days. And this is generally the time when human activity is at its peak. This means there comes higher risk of exposure and higher chances of getting affected.

Higher temperatures boosts ozone formation for two reasons, firstly, owing to climate change and global warming there has been a decline in surface cyclones (due to changed wind and humidity patterns) which would otherwise disperse the nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds and reduce ozone formation.

Secondly, the higher temperature and sunlight supplement the already accumulated gases leading to the formation of ozone.

Thereby it sets a vicious cycle with apparently no loose ends.

The crux of the matter is that problems stand in plenty. The problem is at a global scale rather than a local one. And the small door of climate preservation that is currently open is now closing slowly. The action is needed urgently. Or else the apocalypse might just be around the corner.......

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