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Green Corner


 

 

 

An A-Z of the environment & issues

by Peter Hatswell

 

 

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O is for Ozone

In the old days this meant fresh or bracing air and was often associated with the smell of the seaside. However, that characteristic odour is unromantically caused by decaying marine organisms and has little to do with chemical ozone.

Ozone appears in two concentrated spheres around the earth, the highest forming a protective layer against ultra violet radiation from the sun and the lowest being generated at ground level by the action of sunlight on the pollutants given off by engines and boilers.

The upper layer was brought to our attention by British scientists in the Antarctic a few years ago who discovered large holes in the layer caused by man-made chloro-fluoro-carbon compounds (CFCs), carbon dioxide and methane gas, all of which all have a great affinity for ozone. Thinning of this layer allows more radiation to reach ground level, causing rapid damage to plant leaves and increased incidents of serious skin disease. Happily the problem is recognised and there are now world-wide restrictions on CFC gases and proper disposal methods for old refrigeration equipment. Not much has yet been done about the CO2 and methane because the world has become so dependant on the burning of fossil fuels and the consumption of animal protein.

Ground level ozone is a particular problem in the summer and here in Dunstable we have exceeded the limits set by the World Health Organisation on many occasions in the last few years. The WHO guidelines are designed to protect young children and people with breathing difficulties. These groups should avoid strenuous exercise or even going out in congested town centres during hot sunny days as lung damage may occur and permanently affect normal tissue growth.

The solution to the ground level ozone problem lies in less pollution from motor vehicles, fast food kitchens and heating boilers. This means a sacrifice of freedoms and convenience for some for the benefit of others. Locally grown vegetables and more walking/cycling would help.

 

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