Common air pollutants: ground-level ozone

Ground-level ozone is a colorless and highly irritating gas that forms just above the earth's surface. It is called a "secondary" pollutant because it is produced when two primary pollutants react in sunlight and stagnant air. These two primary pollutants are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

NOx and VOCs come from natural sources as well as human activities. About 95 per cent of NOx from human activity come from the burning of coal, gasoline and oil in motor vehicles, homes, industries and power plants. VOCs from human activity come mainly from gasoline combustion and marketing, upstream oil and gas production, residential wood combustion, and from the evaporation of liquid fuels and solvents. Significant quantities of VOCs also originate from natural (biogenic) sources such as coniferous forests.

Ozone is known to have significant effects on human health. Exposure to ozone has been linked to pre-mature mortality and a range of morbidity health end-points such as hospital admissions and asthma symptom days. In addition to its effects on human health, ozone can significantly impact vegetation and decrease the productivity of some crops. It can also injure flowers and shrubs and may contribute to forest decline in some parts of Canada. Ozone can also damage synthetic materials, cause cracks in rubber, accelerate fading of dyes, and speed deterioration of some paints and coatings. As well, it damages cotton, acetate, nylon, polyester and other textiles.

The Ozone Annex was added to the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement (December 2000) to address the transboundary air pollution leading to high levels of ground-level ozone, a major component of smog.

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