Ozone Impact

What Is Ozone?

Ozone is a colorless gas that can be found in the air we breathe. Each molecule is composed of three atoms of oxygen, one more than the oxygen molecule that we need to breathe. The additional oxygen atom makes ozone extremely reactive and irritating to tissue in the respiratory system. Ozone exists naturally in the upper atmosphere as a shield from the sun's ultraviolet rays. However, ozone found close to the Earth's surface - ground-level ozone - is a serious pollutant and health threat.

What Is Ground-Level Ozone?

Ground-level ozone could present a serious air quality problem. Ground-level ozone forms when industrial, household, and vehicle emissions react with sunlight and high temperatures. Central Virginia's hot, sunny, summer days are a perfect medium for ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone can cause severe immediate and long-term damage to the health of humans and animals, the environment, and ultimately, the economic health of the Greater Richmond Region.


Ozone is formed by a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight and elevated temperatures. The primary man-made sources of VOCs and nitrogen oxides are industrial and automobile emissions. Other sources of VOCs include lawn and garden equipment emissions, and consumer products such as paints, insecticides, and cleaners. Ozone concentrations can reach unhealthy levels when the weather is hot and sunny with little or no wind. High ozone levels usually occur between 1 and 7 p.m. from May through September.

How Does Ozone Affect Your Life?


  • Poor air quality can cause inflammation and irritation of the lungs, and make breathing difficult, particularly for people with asthma or other respiratory diseases.
  • Pollution damages lung tissue, causing effects that may linger for days.
  • Long-term exposure to pollution may lead to premature aging of the lungs or chronic respiratory illness. Children and those with respiratory ailments are most at risk.


  • Poor air quality harms animals, vegetation, and forests.
  • Approximately one quarter of the nitrogen that enters the Chesapeake Bay comes from air pollution. Nitrogen is the number one problem facing the Bay. Nitrogen promotes excessive algae growth, which in turn diminishes oxygen levels.


  • Greater Richmond can lose federal money. Failure to maintain minimum air quality standards as mandated by the EPA can trigger regulatory sanctions.
  • Poor air quality may deter new businesses from relocating to the Richmond region.
  • Economic development in Greater Richmond may be slowed by unhealthy ozone levels.

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