Climate Change to Increase Ground-Level Ozone, Smog, and Air Pollution

In their report: Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone, the United State Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA, 2009) finished a two year study of the effects of climate change on human health. The report officially released by the EPA’s Global Change Research Program focused on pollution in the US . Too often everyday climate change conversations may turn into future predictions of social chaos and urban destruction , failing to recognize immediate impacts on a more personal level. Personal health is one such personal issue to be effected by climate change as, according to the EPA, lung problems and diseases are likely to rise with global warming.

The report finds that there is a potential for climate change to increase ground-level ozone pollution in some regions of the US, especially in the summertime. Ground-level ozone is produced by the phenomenon of photochemical smog, also known as simply “smog.” Smog, present in all modern cities, is a phenomenon of car transportation and industry pollutants with sunlight. To elaborate: cars and industrial processes emit nitrogen oxides and VOCs (volatile organic compounds, present whenever you smell a brand new car). Smog is a mixture of these chemicals as they are hit by sunlight to produce particulate matter and ground-level ozone. Not to be confused with the protective ozone in the stratosphere, which blocks out harmful ultra-violet rays (UV rays can cause damage to your DNA), ground-level ozone (the focus of the study) is harmful to human health.

The harmful effects of ground-level ozone mostly affect the lungs. The effects include: “induction of respiratory symptoms, decrements in lung function, and inflammation of airways” (EPA.GOV, 2010). The term “respiratory symptoms” include: “coughing; throat irritation; pain, burning, or discomfort in the chest while taking a deep breath; & chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath.” There is some preliminary evidence that long term effects produce new cases of Asthma, a grave issue for the very young and elderly population.

The study does address its own limitations: “The results from the modeling studies discussed in this report clearly show that a complex interplay between multiple meteorological factors drives regional ozone changes. Simply considering a single variable, such as temperature, may not provide a sufficient basis for determining future air quality risks due to climate change in every region.”

The study shares the ongoing goal of climate change science: to further understand the likely outcomes of climate change on populations by continually updating studies and data. In future versions the report will investigate on other malignant pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which cause acid rain), particulate matter (PM), and mercury. Although the study focused on ground-level ozone in the US, climate change is a global phenomenon and the study should provide insight useful to other nations.

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