Earth Friendly: Ozone - the good, the bad and the ugly

By Kate Garcia
July 4, 2013 at 2:04 a.m.

Have you ever been so caught up in a topic you forget that maybe the only person you're making sense to is yourself?

I know sometimes my mouth gets going so fast it forgets to check with my brain first. This can be a little on the bad side if you're trying to explain something that can be little tricky to follow.

So, let's take a few steps back together and talk a little bit about ozone. Yes, we talk about ozone a lot, but it's an important topic.

Ozone is kind of like the Force; there's a light side and a dark side.

If you are confused, don't worry. I was confused, too, when I started working in this field a few years ago. Ozone occurs both high up in the atmosphere (the light side) and low near us (the dark side). We call that type of ozone ground-level ozone.

Good ozone exists in the stratosphere. The stratosphere starts about 8 miles above the Earth's surface. Stratospheric ozone protects us from many things, including letting in too much of the sun's UV rays. What would happen without stratospheric ozone? Nothing good; that's what. Just to name a few unattractive things that would happen without it: skin cancer, cataracts and damaged immune systems.

Just one more quick fact about stratospheric ozone: It's naturally occurring. We don't create this type of ozone, but humans do contribute to its depletion by using things that contain chemicals found in pesticides, aerosols and solvents (to name a very few).

The dark side of ozone is basically how it sounds. It's harmful and only hurts us and, sadly, is manmade. Ground-level ozone exists in the troposphere (the layer we live on). Things like volatile organic compounds that can come from chemical fumes and nitrogen oxide that can come from engine exhaust combine in the presence of sunlight to create ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone can greatly affect those with health issues - especially those with lung-related issues.

Much like the Force, the light side and dark side are constantly in combat. The light side protects us and fights against the dark side. If we limit our use of harsh chemicals, drive a little less and care a little more, we can give the good ozone that protects us a chance to replenish itself and prevent the bad ozone from harming us further. As a consequence of going a little greener than you were before, we can beat the bad ground-level ozone.

Sounds like Yoda had it right when he told Luke Skywalker, "If once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny."

Hopefully, now ozone makes a little more sense, and as always, may the good ozone be with you.

Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.

Kate Garcia is the programs coordinator for the City of Victoria, Environmental Services.



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