I thought ozone saved the Polar Bears…?

This blog post is Part 1 of a two-part blog post regarding ozone pollution in Maryland. gty_polar_bear_kb_131114_16x9_992Ozone: a word that most people describe as a layer in the atmosphere whose deterioration is responsible for the decline of the polar bear community in the Arctic. While many people are familiar with the ozone layer, a layer of the upper atmosphere, which shields Earth from harmful UV radiation thus protecting the sea ice polar bears depend on, they are less familiar with the killer ozone that lives around us, in our homes and in our schools. Although ozone is good up high, it is bad nearby.

ozoneThis graphic shows where ozone can be found and where it has a positive or negative effect on the earth. 

Ozone, one of the EPA’s six common air pollutants, is a gas molecule made of three oxygen atoms. When gasses are released from sources such as combustion engines, smokestacks, and burning fires, the gasses undergo a photochemical reaction with sunlight to form ozone smog. Therefore, ozone pollution is at its worst during hot summer days, especially during the afternoon rush hours.

Los Angeles is notorious for its mobile congestion, air pollution, and distinctive haze on the city horizon and may have just found its East Coast companion. Baltimore, Maryland has recently been named the “Los Angeles of the East” as it maintains the worst ozone pollution east of the Mississippi River. While a large portion of this pollution derives from on-road mobile sources between Baltimore and Washington DC, Maryland’s physical geography also places the state in a vulnerable position to pollution from upwind states.

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This image shows the pollution plume coming in from the north and the warm air moving the ozone towards Baltimore (Maryland Department of the Environment)

Increased ozone exposure can lead to immediate breathing problems, cardiovascular effects, and long-term exposure risks. Maryland currently has the highest childhood asthma rate in America with 16.5% of its students suffering from respiratory diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control’s annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 43,000 Maryland residents are treated annually in the ER for asthma with 9,800 of these citizens requiring additional hospitalization. Asthma rates in school-aged children and the elderly are 8% higher than the national average and are still growing.

The EPA has been working with power plants to the north and north west of Maryland who have invested $135 billion in pollution control since 2002 to help offset some of the ozone that wafts south to Maryland. Industrial emissions have and will continue to drop dramatically through 2018; therefore, between the Maryland’s bad local and regional weather conditions, travel to and from the Bay, and power plants in upwind states, the only thing Marylanders truly have control over is their driving habits to reduce a portion of the controllable ozone pollution. Could EVs help solve the ozone dilemma?

The next ozone post will address what Maryland has done and will do regarding ozone pollution in the state.