2006 was bad summer for ozone

The European Environment Agency has published figures showing that incidents of ozone exceeding safe levels were widespread and frequent last summer.

The EEA monitors ozone levels across the continent and figures published last week show that southern and north western Europe were the worst-hit areas.

While ozone is vital in the upper reaches of the atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s rays, at ground level it is a powerful pollutant that causes throat-burning smog and damages crops.

Ozone pollution is produced when sunlight causes nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds to react and tends to be at its worst in areas of high industrial or traffic emissions, particularly during sunny, windless weather.

In 2006 summer ozone levels exceeded the EU’s long-term target and threatening the health of Europeans. The frequency of ozone level exceedances was higher than in previous years, though not as high as in the record year 2003.

The highest concentration of ozone was recorded in Italy, where the gas was at times seen to be well over double the safe limit, with dangerously high levels also monitored in Austria, France, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

North-western, central and eastern Europe did not escape either; these areas were hit by their second highest number of exceedances for a decade. A wide area of the United Kingdom was affected.

Ozone pollution was exceptionally high in July, particularly in northern Europe, but the EEA report states that this was due to unfavourable weather conditions rather than any surge in man-made emissions.

Almost half (42%) of all monitoring stations across Europe recorded at least one incident of ozone pollution exceeding EU targets.

This figure shows the problem as much more widespread than in recent years – the equivalent percent in 2005 was 30% while in just 2004 it was just 19%.

The full report can be found on the EEA website.

Sam Bond

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