Published October 6, 2008 10:39 AM

Hundreds of deaths from ozone predicted

Hundreds more people could die because of increasing levels of ozone at street level, according to scientists.

A study by the Royal Society found ground levels of ozone, the pollutant caused when sunlight hits a mixture of gases in the air, has risen by six per cent per decade since the 1980s.

Although the ozone layer protects the planet at a higher level, at ground level it is damaging to human health.

Children, the elderly and asthmatics are particularly vulnerable to the pollutant which affects the lungs, nose and eyes and is worse on warm stagnant days. The situation could be compounded by global warming, experts fear.

In 2003 some 1,582 UK deaths were attributed to ozone.

But the study projected that with more emissions in the future and climate change this will rise by 51 per cent resulting in 2,391 deaths in 2020.

If no limit is put on the level at which ozone can affect health, then the increase in ozone results in a 15 per cent rise in deaths from 11,272 to12,930 in the same period. An increase in ozone levels is also bad for crops, affecting yield and nutrition levels.

In the EU in 2000 an estimated £5.2 billion was lost due to the impact on arable crops. Again this is projected to get worse as ozone levels rise in the next few years, especially for staple crops such as wheat and rice, threatening food security.

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