Ozone is a gas that occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone can be “good” or “bad” for your health and the environment, depending on its location in the atmosphere.
Ground-level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.
At ground level, ozone is a harmful pollutant. Ozone pollution is a concern during the summer months because strong sunlight and hot weather result in harmful ozone concentrations in the air we breathe. Many urban and suburban areas throughout the United States have high levels of “bad” ozone. But many rural areas of the country are also subject to high ozone levels as winds carry emissions hundreds of miles away from their original sources.
Good Ozone occurs naturally in the Earth’s upper atmosphere – 6 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface – where it forms a protective layer that shields us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Manmade chemicals are known to destroy this beneficial ozone. An area where the protective “ozone layer” has been significantly depleted-for example, over the North or South pole-is sometimes called “the ozone hole.”