What is ozone? Enhanced monitors help keep Wisconsinites informed

Beyond The Forecast

(WFRV) – During the summer months, it is not unheard of to get an Air Quality Alert caused by ozone along the lakeshore.

But what is ozone?

According to Craig Czarnecki, who is the Public Information Specialist in the Air Program with the Wisconsin DNR, “ozone is a gas that forms both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level.” It protects us from the sun’s UV rays that reach the upper levels of the atmosphere. However, when at ground level, ozone can impact human health in a negative way.

Ground-level ozone is not directly emitted, but forms from chemical reactions caused by pollutants. The largest source of ozone producing pollutants comes from vehicles in Wisconsin.

Take, for example, a smokestack at a factory. The smoke coming out of the smokestack isn’t ozone, but the chemicals within the smoke react with the air to create ozone.

Vehicles continue to be the number one cause of ozone forming pollutants in Wisconsin. Cleaner engines in cars continue to help decrease these ozone-forming pollutants.

Ozone exposure can worsen conditions such as “chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function and worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Children are at the greatest risk from exposure to ozone because their lungs are still developing.”

Ozone Compound: University of Hawaii

The Wisconsin DNR monitors 30 stations across the state from spring to fall. Most high ozone days occur downwind of urban areas on hot sunny days when there is little to no breeze.

The Clean Air Act outlined by the U.S. EPA requires Wisconsin to have enhanced monitoring plans that use more advanced technology to go above the basic requirements. This is because the Lake Michigan shoreline is more affected by ozone levels than most spots in the country.


To satisfy these guidelines, the DNR deploys Mobile Air Monitoring Labs (MAML) in at-risk areas. MAML contains high tech equipment that provides extensive monitoring capabilities while being mobilized, unlike traditional air monitors. This year, they have spent the entire summer along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Czarnecki says, “Since 2002, the state has seen a 50% drop in ozone-forming pollutants.”

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