Last summer you may have noticed – if you live in a large city – big prop planes flying overhead at a fairly low level. Many of those were collecting air samples to determine levels of ground level ozone in in air.
The EPA was doing a study and in December of last year they published an extensive report on their findings and their recommendations. I am going to give you a high level view, but if you need some reading to help you sleep you can find the study here.
Ozone is naturally occurring high in our atmosphere and helps to protect living things on Earth from the sun’s harmful rays. When ozone forms at ground level it makes it more difficult to breathe and also causes eye irritation.
Despite reducing the levels of ozone in most areas nationwide, there are a number of non-attainment areas in this country. This is caused because there are more cars on the road than ever and we tend to drive more miles and idle more often.
The EPA is proposing that the parts per million of low level ozone standard be dropped from its current level to somewhere between 60-70ppm, with 65 seemingly the target. My friends in Washington D.C. say that we can expect a final ruling on ozone levels in November. If you want to know more about ozone click here.
Once you make such a rule how do you actually get it to result in a reduction of ozone? First, you have to identify the means of reduction and that is the reason for writing this column; to let you know what is almost certainly on its way.
The key players in creating ground level ozone are hydrocarbons (fuels in their unburned state), nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is a byproduct of high combustion system temperatures where a molecule of nitrogen (78 percent of our atmosphere) and a molecule of oxygen (20 percent of our atmosphere) get stuck together and instead of being inert they become nasty. The final component is sunlight. As these gases rise in the air the sun causes them to create ozone, which drops back down to ground level.