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We can’t breathe easy

india Updated: Apr 24, 2008 20:34 IST

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The next time you take in a lungful of air during that morning walk, beware. It could kill you. Especially during that time of the year when clouds of smog settle around cities and industrial pollutants darken the rivers. All thanks to ozone — a key component of smog that can cause fatal respiratory problems and other illnesses. A study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed this ozone-mortality link.

Nitrogen oxide gases (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emitted by power plants, automobiles, and industries are baked in the atmosphere during hot weather. The sunny days of spring and summer prompt these NOx and VOC to combine with oxygen and form high concentrations of ozone.

This enigmatic triad of oxygen atoms leads a double life: it’s indispensable to life on Earth as the protective ‘ozone layer’ that blocks harmful ultra violet radiation from the sun. Even a slight thinning in this layer means a corresponding increase in skin cancer and cataracts in humans.

At the same time, however, ground-level ozone is also a killer pollutant, whose adverse health effects are believed to be particularly dangerous for people who work, exercise, or spend a lot of time outdoors during warm weather. The elderly and children are also at greater risk, as they are more likely to have reduced or not fully formed lung capacity.

If that isn’t enough bad news, researchers also have a warning for people living near the sea. Apparently, NOx from ship exhausts mix with aerosol particles containing chloride like sea salt spray to produce — well — ocean smog. Alas, it appears even a seaside vacation could actually be harmful to your health nowadays.