Simply Science: What is ozone?

8:10 PM, Jul 5, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - The recent heat wave has prompted a number of health alerts. One of them is an ozone warning. It has many people wondering what it is, and why it can be so dangerous.

Ozone is a gas in the atmosphere that is formed when pollutants react with sunlight and heat. The pollutants can come from combustion sources and emissions from paints and solvents, even wildfire smoke is in this category. More pollutants speed up the rate of ozone production.

In the lowest layer of the atmosphere ozone is known as smog.

Some people are more sensitive to ozone than others. Children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions are especially susceptible to ozone's effects.

"Ozone is a respiratory irritant. It's sort of like a sunburn on your lungs," said Cassie McMahon, an Air Quality Specialist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "So, it can also damage plants like a sunburn. You might have decreased lung function. You might feel tightness in your chest or you might be wheezy. So if you're exposed to high doses you'll look for those symptoms, but also if you're exposed to repeated doses, much like a sunburn, it can get worse and worse."










Ozone has both good and bad properties, depending on where in the atmosphere it's located.

The good comes in to play when the ozone is located high up in the stratosphere. The ozone layer, which you have probably heard of, protects the earth by forming a shield that blocks out some of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

For more on air quality and ozone, visit










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