July 1, 2008 Environmental scientists and engineers developed mathematical models to calculate the impact of pollution from Europe and Asia on areas in the United States. They found that almost twelve percent of pollution in the western U.S. comes from those countries, as opposed to about ten percent in the eastern U.S. Research showed that the largest impact of this pollution occurred in the spring and fall, though most of the problem is due to U.S. produced pollution.
Every summer, a combination of heat, car exhaust and other chemicals cooks up into a big pollution problem called ozone. Forty-five percent of the U.S. population now lives in areas that exceed the health standard limit for ozone.
But now, researchers have made an important discovery -- some of that air pollution is actually coming from the other side of the ocean.
For graduate student Claus Moberg, ozone is more than a topic for his environmental studies research; it’s a health issue.
“I’m asthmatic so high ozone levels exacerbate my asthma, make it harder for me to breathe, and that makes it harder for me to ride my bike,” Moberg told Ivanhoe. Ozone is a summertime pollution problem for most major U.S. cities. Now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison have documented how much of our ozone problem actually comes from across the Pacific Ocean.
“Just like the Eastern U.S. is affected by power plants in the Midwest, so the United States is affected by upwind emissions coming from Asia and Europe,” Tracey Holloway, Ph.D., Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at University of Wisconsin, Madison, told Ivanhoe.
Dr. Holloway’s research indicates about 12-percent of the pollution in the Western United States comes from emissions in Asia and Europe. In the eastern US, up to 10-percent of air pollution comes from those areas.
Dr. Holloway’s mathematical models incorporate atmospheric science as well as chemistry and engineering to calculate ozone emissions and how they travel. She says pollution from Europe and Asia has the biggest U.S. impact in the spring and fall, and that could be important information for policymakers trying to clear the air.
“So if you’re trying to figure out what policies you should design to meet a particular ozone standard, you want to know how much you can control and how much you can’t control,” Dr. Holloway said.
Researchers say understanding worldwide pollution issues could lead to a broader approach to the problem, here and abroad.
ABOUT OZONE: Ozone is a rare component of our atmosphere; there are about three molecules of ozone per every 10 million air molecules, and yet it plays a vital role in human health. Most ozone (90%) can be found in an upper layer of the earth's atmosphere called the stratosphere. It is beneficial because it absorbs most of the damaging ultraviolet sunlight, which can cause skin cancers, among other conditions. The remaining 10% of ozone can be found in a lower region called the troposphere. Here, it reacts with other molecules to produce smog, which has toxic effects on crops, forest growth, and human health.
SMOG MAKES BREATHING DIFFICULT: Smog is generally formed when ground level ozone, fine particles and other chemicals react on hot days. Smog and other pollution can trigger asthma attacks. Smog can make breathing difficult and make human beings more susceptible to cardio-respiratory diseases. People already suffering from heart or lung disease are particularly affected. The two main ingredients in smog that affect human health are ground-level ozone and fine airborne particles.
The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, INFORMS, the American Mathematical Society, and the Mathematical Association of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.