Breathing ozone harmful as a pack of cigarettes

The air around you may appear clear but that does not mean it is not polluted. Ozone, a colorless gas that often goes undetected, impacts the respiratory system and is one of the least controlled pollutants in most countries.

Researchers at the University of Washington, Columbia University, and the University at Buffalo, all in the United States, have found a strong association between the incidence of emphysema, a lung condition that results in shortness of breath, and long-term exposure to ozone and other major air pollutants.

For their study, the researchers followed participants over a decade and found that those living in areas where ozone levels were three parts per billion (ppb) higher than other locations experienced increased rates of emphysema. This increased rate was roughly the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years.

Doctors point out that emphysema is a condition in which destruction of lung tissue leads to wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, and increases the risk of death. The disease cannot be cured and doctors can usually only treat the symptoms, and try to prevent complications like respiratory failure and infections.”

Other studies have shown that ozone levels are increasing in many major cities around the world, partly due to climate change.Although levels of most airborne pollutants are declining in many countries, researchers found that ground-level ozone levels have actually increased.

Ground-level ozone is typically produced when ultraviolet light reacts with fossil fuel exhaust.

Air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor to chronic lung diseases like emphysema that was once associated mainly with smoking tobacco, but which is now increasingly being detected among non-smokers.

Analysing both for air pollution and demographics of residences in an area, the study found that people who live in generally crowded, low-income communities were at higher risk of breathing polluted air.

“Ozone concentrations are increasing as a result of climate change and fossil fuel use — these are things that need to be addressed by changes at the community, national, and global scale in order to prevent health impacts like these, warned the researchers.