You probably know that CO2 emissions, and even more so fine particular matter (PM2), can have disastrous consequences for air quality and health. But what about ozone (O3)?
A study by the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that, by 2050, the United States alone could experience three to nine more days of unhealthy ozone levels per year.
The study’s first author, Lu Shen, a Ph.D. candidate at SEAS and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, says that climate change in the coming decades “will likely cause more heat waves during the summer, which in turn could cause a 70 to 100 percent increase in ozone episodes, depending on the region.”
How is that a bad thing? Well, while ozone in earth’s ozone layer protects us from most of the sun’s radiation (not all of it, that’s why we still get sunburnt), when it is breathed in directly it can affect lung function and be detrimental to the respiratory system. As such, breathing too much ozone can have multiple negative health effects such as premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other cardiopulmonary diseases.
Children, the elderly, and people suffering from asthma in particular are likely to experience the consequences of higher concentrations of ground-level ozone. According to Loretta J. Mickley, who co-authored the study, short-term exposure to ozone can be enough to cause the “adverse health effects”.
Unfortunately for us, who are now beginning to feel the effects of climate change, temperature is an important driver of ground-level ozone. “Typically, when the temperature increases, so does surface ozone,” said Mickley. “Ozone production accelerates at high temperatures, and emissions of the natural components of ozone increase. High temperatures are also accompanied by weak winds, causing the atmosphere to stagnate. So the air just cooks and ozone levels can build up.”
However, the increase in ozone levels only accelerates with rising temperature up to approximately 32°C (90°F). Beyond this threshold, ozone levels seize to rise at a greater pace. “We found that this dropping off of ozone levels is actually caused by meteorology,” said Shen. “Typically, ozone is tightly correlated with temperature, which in turn is tightly correlated with other meteorological variables such as solar radiation, circulation, and atmospheric stagnation. But at extreme temperatures, these relationships break down.”
While it’s nice that the news is not all bad, the ozone content in the air we breathe is very real. Even if you happen to live close to an area with constant extreme temperatures of beyond 32°C (90°F), the ozone is still in the air, its levels merely no longer rise at an accelerating pace.
As global efforts to combat climate change have been off to a slow start for several decades now, the question is: what can you do to address this threat to your and your loved ones’ health? Fortunately, the answer is rather simple: avoid breathing it! While this may sound like easier said than done, pollution masks allow you to easily minimise the risk of breathing in hazardous particles from the air around you. And while any mask will have at least some effect, CambridgeMask’s military-grade filtration technology ensures that not even the smallest particles can make their way into your airways, lungs, and bloodstream – neither ozone, nor PM2, nor anything else. Get your mask today, and stay healthy!