Outdoors, Ozone and Plants


If you happened to see a snippet from the evening news, you may have come across a piece about a thick cloud of yellowish smog in the Chinese city of Wuhan. While the cause of the dense cloud is up for debate, it highlights a couple important points about air pollution. First, that unlike your yard, air pollution doesn't stay put. Secondly, while we all know that plants can act as nature's version of an air purifier, one thing they have trouble filtering is ground level ozone.

_For many of us, whether it's a camping trip to a national park or weekend at the beach, summer means time outdoors. Though the thought of enjoying the fresh air of the great outdoors is appealing, it's not always the case. Even forests and parks, far from the pollution of cities, can be effected by ground level ozone and smog.

_Air pollution doesn't adhere to prescribed boundaries, so while cities can be the focal point of ground level ozone and smog, surrounding areas can and often will be affected. Regional weather patterns can carry VOCs and carbon monoxide emitted by factories and cities throughout areas where these pollutants are not produced. These pollutants can persist for weeks, and on warm, sunny days, create ground level ozone that effects the people and plants living in that region.

_Many people have plants in the home. I keep a hideous looking spider plant in my living room (though less for air cleaning and more for sentimental value). Plants have the uncanny ability to help clean up messes, and by absorbing sunlight and carbon dioxide they play a vital role in producing oxygen and moisture (remember high school biology). Ground level ozone can have a severe impact on plants.

_Stippling and Flecking on Plants from OzoneOnce absorbed by plants, ozone disrupts the process of photosynthesis and can actually damage the leaves where this process occurs. This can have a variety of effects including lower crop yields on farms, damage to plants and a reduced ability to break down pollutants in the air. Though it gets little media exposure, ground level ozone and lower crop yields are enough of a concern that farmers in the U.S. are working on developing ozone resistant strains of the soybean plant to combat this.

_To reduce ozone, activated charcoal or carbon has been shown to be effective. So for those with asthma or respiratory problems, masks with some layer of activated charcoal can help reduce exposure, no matter where you are. So regardless of whether you are on vacation or just jogging around the block, sensitive groups should take a moment to check the air quality index before heading out.

_Author: Kevin Gilmore

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