Two types of air pollution are especially dangerous to breathe—ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot). aged care facilities What is ozone? Where does it come from? And how unhealthy is it? Ozone (O3), or smog, is an irritating, invisible gas that is formed most often by a reaction of sunlight and vapors emitted when fuel is burned by cars and trucks, factories, power plants and other sources. Smog usually peaks in the summer months, from May through October, when temperatures are highest and sunlight is strongest.
Ozone reacts chemically (“oxidizes”) with internal body tissues that it comes in contact with, such as those in the lung. It is especially irritates the respiratory tract, like getting a sunburn or rubbing sandpaper on a wound. Smog can cause health problems the day you breathe in high levels of smog, or after long-term exposure. It’s particularly dangerous for people with asthma and other chronic lung diseases, senior citizens, and children and teens.
Smog can cause asthma attacks, coughing and wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain when inhaling deeply, and even premature death. Breathing high levels of smog repeatedly over the long term may also lead to reduced lung function, inflamed lung lining, and increased breathing problems. What is particle pollution? Where does it come from? And how unhealthy is it? Particle pollution is the most dangerous, and deadly, of the widespread outdoor air pollutants. Soot is an old name for particle pollution.
Particle pollution is too small to really see—you can see the haze it creates when the sunlight hits it. Particles can be so microscopic that they’re one-seventh to one-thirtieth the diameter of a single human hair—or smaller.
Particle pollution comes from many sources. The particles are usually a complex mixture that can include ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals, and aerosols. In the eastern U.S., many particles come from power plants that burn coal to produce electricity. In the western U.S., many come from diesel buses, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as agriculture and wood burning.
The body’s natural defenses help to cough or sneeze larger particles out of our bodies. But those defenses don’t keep out smaller particles, and they get lodged deep in the lungs, where they stay and can cause major damage. Some of the particles are so tiny that they can pass through the lungs into the blood stream and travel throughout your body like oxygen.
First and foremost, breathing particle pollution can kill. Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Breathing particle pollution year-round can shorten life by one to three years. It causes many other health effects, premature births to serious respiratory disorders, even when the particle levels are very low. It makes asthma worse and causes wheezing, coughing and respiratory irritation in anyone with sensitive airways. It also triggers heart attacks, strokes, irregular heartbeat, and premature death.