Ozone (O3) is a colorless and odorless gas that is found both in the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere and at ground level (troposphere). Of the two types of ozone, tropospheric ozone is harmful to health, while stratospheric ozone is benign and essential to keep the planet alive.

Stratospheric ozone vs. tropospheric ozone

On the other hand, stratospheric ozone is in the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere located approximately 10-15 kilometers from the Earth’s surface. Its function is to protect the Earth by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays and is naturally formed by chemical reactions occurring between ultraviolet sunlight and oxygen. It is a completely benign gas to human health, and even necessary to protect us from ultraviolet rays.

Tropospheric ozone is the most important oxidant present in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Is a compound produced from other substances and chemical reactions involved in the sunlight, and is able to attack (oxidized) material and living tissues.

Given his great ability to react with most compounds, degrading (oxidation, corrosion, etc.) makes it one of the most dangerous primary pollutants, that affects both the materials themselves as living beings who are exposed to their action.

Tropospheric ozone harmful to health

When the concentration values ​​are high, the consequences are important in human health. The respiratory system is the biggest loser, being the first symptoms cough, headache, nausea, chest pain, and shortness of breath. These symptoms have been observed for ozone concentrations around 240 g/m3 (warning threshold). If ozone levels exceed this level may also occur pulmonary inflammation, hyper-reactivity of the airways and severe deterioration of lung function.

Seeking to reduce the harmful effects on human health and the environment in general, caused by ozone, the European Parliament and the Council adopted on February 12 of 2002 the Directive 2002/3/EC, which is duly implemented in Spain by Royal Decree 1796/2003. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a guideline values ​​for air quality in Europe[1], setting the threshold of health protection 110μg/m3 (8h).

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