How Ozone Pollution Affects India’s People and Environment

How Ozone Pollution Affects India’s People and Environment
Image source: Freepik

Ozone is a gas composed of three oxygen atoms that occurs both in the upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone in the stratosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, but ozone at the surface level is a harmful pollutant that can damage human health and crop productivity. Surface ozone is formed by the reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight and heat. These precursor pollutants are emitted by various sources such as vehicles, power plants, industries, and biomass burning. India is one of the most polluted countries in the world, with 10 out of the 20 most populated cities exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines by a factor of 10. India also faces frequent heat waves, which increase the formation of ozone and exacerbate its effects.

Health Effects

Breathing ozone can cause various respiratory problems, such as chest pain, coughing, wheezing, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. Ozone can also inflame the lining of the lungs and reduce lung function over time. Exposure to ozone can increase the risk of premature death from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. According to a study by HEI, ozone pollution was responsible for over 1.1 million premature deaths in India in 2017, of which 56% were due to outdoor ozone and 44% were due to household air pollution. Another study estimated that by 2050, India could see more than a million premature deaths a year linked to ozone exposure if there is no change in emissions.

Crop Effects

Ozone can also affect the growth and yield of crops, such as wheat, rice, maize, soybean, cotton, and potato. Ozone can reduce photosynthesis, biomass, and grain quality of crops, leading to economic losses and food insecurity. A study by AGU estimated that in one year, India’s ozone pollution damaged millions of tons of the country’s major crops, causing losses of more than a billion dollars and destroying enough food to feed tens of millions of people living below the poverty line.

Solutions

Reducing ozone pollution requires reducing the emissions of its precursors, NOx and VOCs. This can be achieved by implementing stricter emission standards for vehicles, power plants, industries, and other sources; promoting cleaner fuels and technologies; enhancing public transport and non-motorized modes; improving waste management and reducing open burning; increasing green cover and urban forestry; and raising public awareness and participation. However, reducing NOx emissions alone may not be sufficient to lower ozone levels, as it may increase the availability of VOCs for ozone formation. Therefore, a balanced approach that considers both NOx and VOCs is needed to effectively control ozone pollution in India.

FAQs

1.What is ozone pollution and how is it formed? 

Ozone pollution is a type of air pollution that occurs when certain gases react with sunlight and form ozone, a variant of oxygen composed of three oxygen atoms. Ozone pollution is mainly caused by nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by cars, fossil power plants and industry, as well as other volatile compounds.

2.Why is ozone pollution a problem in India? 

Ozone pollution is a problem in India because of the high levels of NOx and other pollutants in the air, as well as the rising summer temperatures and heat waves that provide the activation energy for more ozone formation. Ozone pollution is especially severe in urban areas, where population density, energy consumption and traffic congestion are high.

3.What are the health effects of ozone pollution? 

Ozone pollution can cause or worsen various respiratory diseases, such as chest pain, coughing, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. It can also inflame the lining of the lungs and leave the lung tissue scarred over time. Exposure to elevated ozone levels can lead to very detrimental health effects, even after just an hour. Ozone pollution is estimated to cause over 1.1 million premature deaths in India every year.

4.What are the environmental effects of ozone pollution? 

Ozone pollution can also damage crops and plants, reducing their yield and quality. Ozone can affect the photosynthesis process, impairing the growth and development of plants. Ozone can also make plants more susceptible to pests, diseases and drought. Ozone pollution is estimated to destroy enough crops to feed 94 million people living below the poverty line in India every year.

5.How can ozone pollution be reduced? 

Ozone pollution can be reduced by controlling the emissions of NOx and other precursors, such as by using cleaner fuels, improving vehicle standards, installing emission control devices, promoting public transport and renewable energy sources, and enforcing stricter regulations. However, a delicate balance needs to be struck between reducing ozone pollution and preserving the stratospheric ozone layer that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays.

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