What is Ozone?
According to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, ozone is a colorless gas that can be found throughout the earth’s atmosphere. In the upper atmosphere, ozone exists naturally where it shields the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. At ground-level, however,ozone is formed as a result of chemical reactions caused by the presence of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The primary sources of VOCs and nitrogen oxides are automobile and industrial emissions. These compounds react with oxygen in the air in the presence of heat and strong sunlight to produce ground-level ozone, the primary ingredient of smog. Besides being a hazard to human health, ozone is damaging to forests and vegetation and can cause degradation of materials such as rubber and paint.
What are the dangers?
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, unhealthy levels of ozone can cause:
- Throat irritation
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Increased susceptibility to respiratory infection
- Aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments
Health officials said these symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. To avoid experiencing these effects they said you can:
- Limit outdoor exercise and strenuous activity
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment if possible during the afternoon and evening hours, when ozone levels are highest
- Schedule outdoor exercise and children’s outdoor activities in the morning hours.
In addition, individuals who experience respiratory symptoms may wish to consult their doctors.
Who’s most at risk?
While everyone can be affected by poor air quality, some people are even more susceptible, including:
- The elderly
- People who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma
- People who work or exercise outdoors
As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase. The DEM said at the highest levels – an AQI between 201 and 300 – everyone should avoid being outdoors.
Steps you can take
The Department of Environmental Management said there are ways you can help contribute to lower ground level ozone levels and cleaner air.
- Limit driving
- Avoid unnecessary car trips.
- Carpool, walk or ride the bus or a bicycle whenever possible.
- Minimize starts and avoid unnecessary acceleration.
- Vehicle emissions are highest during starting and acceleration.
- Reduce idling
- Avoid congested traffic and lines at drive-through windows.
- Drive your lowest emission vehicle
- Use the most fuel-efficient, usually the newest, car you have whenever possible.
- Maintain your vehicle
- Get a tune-up at the beginning of each summer.
- Minimize lawn mower emissions
- Tune-up your lawn mower
- Use electric or hand-powered equipment if possible.
- Limit use of solvent-based household products
- Use water-based or low solvent paints, varnishes, cleaners, and personal care products.
- Limit barbecue emissions
- Use an electric starter instead of lighter fluid to start charcoal fires
- Use an electric, natural gas, or propane grill.
- DEM Air Quality Forecast
- DEM’s daily air quality readings – 1-401-222-2808
- American Lung Association’s air pollution or lung health information – 1-800-LUNG-USA
- State clean air programs – 1-401-222-2808