July 21, 2009

Ozone-boosting reaction discovered

Chemicals pumped into the air by fossil fuels create smog-forming chlorine atoms that boost ozone levels, researchers in California said.

Under extreme circumstances, the chemicals could account for nearly half of California's state-set limits on outdoor air pollution, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, said Monday in a release.

We should be monitoring it and incorporating it into atmospheric models, chemistry professor Barbara Finlayson-Pitts said. We still don't really understand important elements of the atmosphere's chemistry.

The burning of fossil fuels generates nitrogen oxides, which combine with hydrochloric acid from airborne sea salt to create highly reactive chlorine atoms that speed smog formation and greater levels of ozone, Finlayson-Pitts said in the July 20 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ozone exposure can cause coughing, throat irritation, chest pain and shortness of breath and has been linked to asthma, bronchitis, cardiopulmonary problems and premature death.