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How dangerous is a high ozone warning?

TRI-COUNTY AREA—For three consecutive days last week, there was an air quality advisory out for the entire state because of increased ozone levels.
But what does that mean?
According to the New York State Department of Health, this is not the ozone in the upper atmosphere one would normally think about when that word is used. This ozone is a ground-level pollutant which, in high enough levels, becomes a health hazard.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation states that ozone can cause a variety of respiratory problems (including coughing, shortness of breath, decreased lung function, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection) that worsen as ozone levels rise.
The DEC explains that unlike other pollutants, ozone is not emitted by pollution sources, but is in the air itself. The state said high temperatures (over 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunlight set off chemical reactions, with ozone as the end result. The DOH also adds daily ozone levels can be influenced by local weather events.
While overall levels of ozone had been decreasing in New York due to vehicle exhaust controls, the DEC said harmful ozone levels can still occur. However, this is particularly in New York City.
To gauge the ozone levels, the Air Quality Index was created. Current levels are viewable here. The DEC said when levels of ozone, or fine particles, are expected to exceed an AQI level of 100, an advisory is issued. This is what happened last Tuesday to Thursday.
The DOH reports that short-term ozone exposure has been linked with adverse effects. Eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory symptoms and decreases in lung function have occurred in healthy, exercising people breathing air containing elevated levels of ozone. The state adds, breathing outdoor air with high ozone levels for long periods of time (years) may permanently affect health.
The state said the only way to cut down on ground level ozone is via:
• DEC controlling pollution from smokestacks through a statewide permitting program.
• State and federal controls on vehicle exhausts, along with programs requiring inspection and maintenance of vehicle emission control devices, reduce emission of nitrogen oxides.
• Using of low volatility fuels during the warm months reduces hydrocarbon vapors in the air.
• Drivers can prefer low-emission vehicles, limit their driving, and refuel with care to avoid spillage.
• Homeowners can use water-based paints, store and handle gasoline and other solvents carefully.
There is also a hotline people can to get up-to-date information on current ozone levels at 800-535-1345.

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