NYSERDA’s air quality research focuses on the causes and consequences of two important atmospheric pollutants, ozone and particulate matter. With a better understanding of the issue and current research relating to it, New York’s citizens and policymakers can address the problem more effectively.
Ozone (O3) is a highly oxidative molecule found in the air. When it forms high in the stratosphere, O3 is critical to life on Earth because it absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But in the low atmosphere (troposphere) or at ground level, O3 is considered a health hazard. Tropospheric O3 is produced by sunlight-induced photochemical processes involving nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These precursor gases are derived from natural and anthropogenic (man-made) sources. Ozone concentrations are generally highest in and around urban areas.
Particulate matter (PM) refers to tiny airborne particles that originate from various natural and anthropogenic sources, some of which are produced from chemical reactions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), NOx, and certain VOCs. They are composed of many compounds rather than one substance, also referred to as dust, haze, and smoke. PM is regulated in two categories of particle size: particles that are less than 10 micrometers (µ) in diameter (PM10), and "fine" particles of less than 2.5µ in diameter (PM2.5).