Behind the Forecast: Ground-level ozone’s impact on your health, the environment

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Science Behind the Forecast: Ground-level ozone’s impact on your health, the environment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Ozone, which contains three oxygen atoms, is a colorless gas that reacts readily with many other substances. It absorbs ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation but also can hurt plants and damage our lungs.

There is a layer of ozone nine to 18 miles above the planet's surface. This layer absorbs a lot of radiation from the sun, including UV-B.

While ozone is helpful in that regard, it's also quite dangerous at ground level.

Chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and other volatile organic compounds create ground-level ozone. Power and chemical plants, refineries, and vehicles release pollutants that react when there's sunlight, creating ozone. Hotter temperatures can speed up that process. The ground-level ozone can quickly build up, especially when the wind is light, and there is no rainfall.

Ozone in the low
Ozone in the low (Source: Ozone in the low)

Ozone is most harmful to those with breathing ailments like asthma, older adults, children, and people who are active or work outside. Breathing ozone can cause coughing, throat irritation, chest pain, and airway inflammation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When ozone enters one of these plants' leaves, it can slow the plant's growth by reducing photosynthesis and increase a plant's risk of insect damage, severe weather damage, the impact of other pollutants, and disease, according to the EPA. In turn, this can result in changes to habitat quality, water and nutrient cycles, and a loss of species diversity.

Now that we've started to see warmer temperatures, parts of the United States are now in ozone season. Indiana's ozone season lasts from March 1 through October 31. Ozone season lasts from May 1 through September 30 in Kentucky.

The graphic from Climate Central shows the number of unhealthy ozone days in Louisville from 2000 through 2018.
The graphic from Climate Central shows the number of unhealthy ozone days in Louisville from 2000 through 2018. (Source: Climate Central)

Open burning in Boone, Boyd, Bullitt, Campbell, Jefferson, Kenton, Lawrence, and Oldham counties in Kentucky is restricted to protect air quality during this time.

Open burning of household trash, tree limbs, brush, leaves, and natural growth is restricted from May to September in Boone, Boyd, Bullitt, Campbell, Kenton, and Oldham counties in Kentucky. Open burning is restricted year-round in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

Residential open burning is never allowed in Clark and Floyd Counties in Indiana. Specific rules for private residential burning in these counties can be found here. Open burning rules for other Indiana counties can be found here.

To report illegal open burning or to learn more about open burning restrictions in Kentucky, please call the Division for Air Quality at 502-782-6592 or email burnlaw@ky.gov, or visit the division’s website at http://bit.ly/OpenBurningKY.

To report illegal open burning in Indiana, call the Indiana Department of Environmental Management at (800) 451-6027, option 3, or learn more at www.idem.IN.gov/openburning.

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