Health & Environmental Effects of Ozone
What Kinds of Harmful Health Effects Can Ozone Cause?
Ozone can damage the tissues of the respiratory tract, causing inflammation and irritation, and result in symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness and worsening of asthma symptoms. Specifically, inhalation of ozone causes inflammation and irritation of the tissues lining human airways, causing and worsening a variety of symptoms. Exposure to ozone can reduce the volume of air that the lungs breathe in and cause shortness of breath. Ozone in sufficient doses increases the permeability of lung cells, rendering them more susceptible to toxins and microorganisms. The occurrence and severity of health effects from ozone exposure vary widely among individuals, even when the dose and the duration of exposure are the same.
Who is at the Greatest Risk from Exposure to Ozone?
Research shows adults and children who spend more time outdoors participating in vigorous physical activities are at greater risk from the harmful health effects of ozone exposure. While there are relatively few studies of ozone’s effects on children, the available studies show that children are no more or less likely to suffer harmful effects than adults. However, there are a number of reasons why children may be more susceptible to ozone and other pollutants. Children and teens spend nearly twice as much time outdoors and engaged in vigorous activities as adults. Children breathe more rapidly than adults and inhale more pollution per pound of their body weight than adults. Also, children are less likely than adults to notice their own symptoms and avoid harmful exposures. Further research may be able to better distinguish between health effects in children and adults.
Children, adolescents and adults who exercise or work outdoors, where ozone concentrations are the highest, are at the greatest risk of harm from this pollutant.
Ozone's Effects on Plant Life
Ozone exposure reduces the overall productivity of plants, damaging cells and causing destruction of leaf tissue. As a result, ozone exposure reduces the plants’ ability to photosynthesize and produce their own food. Plants respond by growing more leaves thereby reducing the amounts of stored carbohydrates in roots and stems. This weakens plants, making them susceptible to disease, pests, cold and drought. Ozone also reduces crop and timber yields, resulting in millions of dollars in economic losses. Additionally, ozone disturbs the stability of ecosystems, leading to sensitive species dying out. Furthermore, ozone exposure reduces the production of roots, seeds, fruit and other plant constituents, reducing the amount of food available for wildlife.
Ozone’s Effects on Materials
Ozone can cause substantial damage to a variety of materials such as rubber, plastics, fabrics, paint and metals. Exposure to ozone progressively damages both the functional and aesthetic qualities of materials and products, and shortens their life spans. Damage from ozone exposure can result in significant economic losses as a result of the increased costs of maintenance, upkeep and replacement of these materials.
Additional CARB Resources:
- What is Ozone?
- Air Quality Standards for Ozone
- Compliance with Ambient Ozone Air Quality Standards, By U.S. Region
- American Lung Association: How Ozone Pollution Harms Your Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Ozone and Your Health
- U.S. EPA: Health Effects of Ozone Pollution
- U.S. EPA: Ozone Pollution and Your Patient's Health
- U.S. EPA: Ecosystem Effects of Ozone Pollution