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On air: increasing ozone and its health effects

February 24, 2017

If you live on the west coast, you may have come across mentions of a mysterious atmospheric occurrence called The Blob. The Blob is the nickname given to an unusually warm patch of water in the Pacific that, in 2015, registered temperatures several degrees above normal and affected temperatures well inland.

It was recently discovered that these high temperatures, along with low cloud cover and calm air, created an excess of harmful ozone between 3 and 13 parts per billion higher than normal, with Salt Lake City and Sacramento registering total ozone counts higher than federal health limits of 70 parts per billion.

Why is ozone a concern at ground level? A close relative of oxygen (O2), ozone (O3) irritates the linings of the lungs and can scar lung tissue. Related health problems include chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

While ozone, the main ingredient of smog, is harmful to breathe at ground level, it is beneficial in the upper atmosphere as part of the ozone layer that blocks ultraviolet (UV) light. Overexposure to UV light has been linked to a greater incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and immunodeficiency.

Ozone is a growing problem in other parts of the world, unrelated to the emergence of The Blob. India recently made news in The Washington Post when it surpassed China for the number of deaths attributed to air pollution, ozone being a significant component.

Ozone related deaths in India have risen by about 150 percent with 14.7 ozone related deaths per 100,000 people. For comparison, that number is 5.9 in China, a country that has made significant pollution control gains since 1990 when China and India each had 13.2 deaths per 100,000 people. The United States, meanwhile, registered 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, down from 2.5 in 1990.

Though you can’t control outdoor air, if you live in a smoggy area or one that is exposed to excessive ground ozone, an air purification unit like Airmega can keep your indoor air clean, and your lungs healthy in the area you can control—your home.

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