Air Quality and Health and Welfare

2.2 Ozone

2.2.2 Health Effects from Short-Term Exposures to Ozone
A large body of evidence shows that ozone can cause harmful respiratory effects including chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath, which affect people with compromised respiratory systems most severely. When inhaled, ozone can cause acute respiratory problems; aggravate asthma; cause significant temporary decreases in lung function of 15 to over 20 percent in some healthy adults; cause inflammation of lung tissue; may increase hospital admissions and emergency room visits; and impair the body's immune system defenses, making people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Children and outdoor workers are likely to be exposed to elevated ambient levels of ozone during exercise and, therefore, are at greater risk of experiencing adverse health effects.

Short-term exposures (1-3 hours) to high ambient ozone concentrations have been linked to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory problems. For example, studies conducted in the northeastern U.S. and Canada show that ozone air pollution is associated with 10-20 percent of all of the summertime respiratory-related hospital admissions. Repeated exposure to ozone can make people more susceptible to respiratory infection and lung inflammation and can aggravate preexisting respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to ozone can cause repeated inflammation of the lung, impairment of lung defense mechanisms, and irreversible changes in lung structure, which could lead to premature aging of the lungs and/or chronic respiratory illnesses such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.

Children are most at risk from ozone exposure because they typically are active outside, playing and exercising, during the summer when ozone levels are highest. For example, summer camp studies in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada have reported significant reductions in lung function in children who are active outdoors. Further, children are more at risk than adults from ozone exposure because their respiratory systems are still developing. Adults who are outdoors and moderately active during the summer months, such as construction workers and other outdoor workers, also are among those most at risk. These individuals, as well as people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, especially asthmatic children, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory symptoms, such as chest pain and cough, when exposed to ozone during periods of moderate exertion.

Evidence also exists of a possible relationship between daily increases in ozone levels and increases in daily mortality levels. While the magnitude of this relationship is still too uncertain to allow for direct quantification, the full body of evidence indicates a likely positive relationship between ozone exposure and premature mortality.