Ground-level ozone can be a bad thing
Prior to the major miracle of a lung transplant, I had emphysema and chronic bronchitis, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. That means that my lung capacity was only a fraction of what it should have been, given my age, weight, etc. In my case it bottomed out at about 20 percent of normal.
It also meant that my respiratory system was super sensitive to air pollution in any form. That included such things as particulate matter like dust, carbon monoxide and ground-level ozone.
Ozone in the atmosphere protects us from the harmful effects of sunlight. Ozone at ground level can be a very bad thing, especially for those of us who have enough trouble breathing without any outside interference. Sunlight and hot weather combine with auto exhaust, gasoline vapors, industrial emissions and chemical solvents to form harmful levels of ozone. Ground-level ozone is the primary constituent of smog. When it is combined with the emissions from burning fireplaces or wood stoves, it can form a nasty soup of air. Those of you who still smoke simply add to the problem.
Many urban areas tend to have high levels of “bad” ozone, but even rural areas are subject to increased ozone levels because wind carries ozone and the pollutants that form it hundreds of miles away from their original sources.
Exposure of 0.1 to 1 part per million of ozone in the air we breathe produces headaches, burning eyes and irritation to the respiratory passages, even in healthy lungs. One part per million is roughly equivalent to one second of time in approximately 11½ days.
Bad air effects all of us. As our population ages and the effects of tobacco use damage more and more lungs, it will become even more important to concentrate on improving the quality of our air.
Jim Nelson is a former Glenwood Springs resident who works with regional and national cardiovascular and lung organizations.
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