An ozone alert was issued in Kansas City on Tuesday, 6/20, for the ninth time in June, signifying the most polluted summer for the area since 2018, which had ten ozone alerts in the month of June.
Continue reading to learn more about the health and environmental effects of ozone and what to do during an ozone alert from Camfil’s air quality experts.
What is Ozone?
Ozone (O3) is a gas molecule made of three oxygen molecules that occurs naturally in small amounts in the earth’s upper atmosphere and is less chemically stable than the form of oxygen that we breathe (O2). Ozone in the stratosphere protects us from harmful UV sunlight, but when it forms at ground level, it poses a severe risk to human health and causes significant damage to ecosystems.
Where Does Ground-Level Ozone Come From?
Ground-level ozone is formed at ground level when certain pollutants undergo chemical reactions in the presence of sunlight. Pollutants commonly involved in the formation of ozone include nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can come from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other pollution sources.
Though high ozone levels can occur during any season, it is most likely during hot, sunny weather in the summer. It is also important to note that ozone can be carried long distances on the wind to rural areas where air quality is generally good and ozone is less likely to form.
What Health Issues Does Ozone Cause?
Ozone is considered highly reactive, which means that molecules of ozone easily react with other molecules they come into contact with. When ozone is inhaled, molecules react with the cells of our lungs and respiratory tract, causing tissue damage. Our bodies often respond to the presence of ozone with muscle constriction in the respiratory system, which traps air in the alveoli (the small sacs inside our lungs that aid the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide). Even in healthy individuals, this manifests in acute effects such as:
- Sore throats
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain when breathing deeply
- Increase susceptibility to infection
Effects can be more serious in people with lung diseases such as asthma, COPD, and emphysema, leading to a greater frequency of attacks and increased severity of symptoms.
Although these short-term effects are generally reversible, long-term exposure or repeated episodes of acute exposure can cause permanent damage. Exposure to ozone levels that commonly occur in cities during the summer can cause a lasting reduction in lung capacity and reduced ability of the immune system to fight respiratory infections (reflected in long-term animal studies). Additionally, a study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) reported a 5-10% reduction in lung capacity in healthy volunteers engaging in moderate exercise for 6.5 hours with ozone levels at 80 ppb. The EPA’s threshold for unsafe ozone levels is 75 ppb, which is regularly exceeded in warm weather across the United States.
While individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma are at increased risk of negative health effects, healthy individuals who regularly exercise at doors are considered to be another group at high risk for permanent side effects by the NIEHS.
Furthermore, children’s lungs are especially vulnerable to the effects of ozone exposure for several reasons:
- Children’s respiratory systems are not fully developed
- Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults
- Children’s higher metabolic rates can lead to more severe responses
- Children exercise more outdoors, on average than adults do
What Are the Environmental Effects of Ground-Level Ozone?
Some plants, including agricultural crops, are sensitive to the effects of ozone. When these plants are exposed to excessive levels of ozone, it can lead to:
- Reductions in photosynthesis (the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose in the presence of sunlight)
- Slowed growth
- Increased susceptibility to disease, damage from insects and severe weather, and the effects of other pollutants
The damage that ozone causes to individual plants has further consequences for entire ecosystems, including:
- changes to habitat quality
- changes to the makeup of plants in a forest
- changes to nutrient and water cycles
When Are Ozone Alerts Issued in Kansas City?
Ozone alerts are issued in Kansas City when conditions are such that ozone levels are likely to exceed the EPA’s threshold for an unsafe eight-hour average (75 parts per billion).
In addition to an ozone alert, it is common to receive messages advising people to avoid activities that could increase ozone levels, like filling up gas tanks, on these days.
What Should You Do During an Ozone Alert?
Here are several tips from AirQKC:
- Stay indoors, in a building with good ventilation and air filtration if possible.
- Avoid exercising rigorously outdoors, and try to schedule any activity you can’t avoid taking before 10 am or after 7 pm.
- Drive your car as little as possible by combining and delaying errands or opting for carpooling or public transportation.
- Avoid refueling your vehicle, because the fumes that are released and small spills that occur react with sunlight to create ozone.
- Postpone activities that involve power equipment, such as mowing your lawn or using other garden equipment, which is estimated to be responsible for 9% of Kansas City’s ozone formation.
What Air Filters Get Rid of Ozone?
Pollution can be up to 50 times more concentrated indoors than outdoors. Ozone is a molecular pollutant (also referred to as a gaseous pollutant). Gaseous pollutants such as ozone cannot be removed from indoor air with HEPA filters, which are designed to capture particulate matter. Instead, activated carbon and similar activated media filters are designed to target ozone and other common gaseous pollutants.
For the best protection against smog, which is a severe form of pollution composed primarily of ozone and particulate matter and is often present on ozone alert days, use an air purifier with HEPA filters and activated carbon filters.
About Camfil Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way – from design to delivery and across the product life cycle – we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control, and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways – so we can all breathe easier.
The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 30 manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 35+ countries, and about 5,600 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and in communities across the world. To discover how Camfil USA can help you to protect people, processes and the environment, visit us at www.camfil.us/
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