High ozone levels affect people every day, and yet, the consequences are often hard to see.
A new ozone garden exhibit at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History shows the harmful effects of air pollution on plants, a physical representation of how human actions can affect living systems.
The exhibit features plants called bioindicators, which show visible injury on their leaves when exposed to air pollutants.
The milkweed, snap bean, potato and coneflower plants on display develop brown and black spots when exposed to harmful ozone pollution — a problem many people aren't aware of, said Kateryna Lapina, a post-doctoral researcher in CU's mechanical engineering department.
"Not everybody is aware of the pollution we have in Boulder," Lapina said. "Not many people know what ozone pollution means. This is a great project to make something invisible suddenly visible and easy to understand by anyone."
Lapina founded the gardens with post-doctoral scientist Danica Lombardozzi at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Lapina has been studying ozone pollution for years, but said this project is a chance to explain her research and pollution's effect on plant — and human — health to the general public.
Ground level ozone is formed by hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and increases because of emissions from vehicles and industrial activities. Ground ozone levels often build in the summer months due to the abundance of heat and sunlight in many areas.
Though some plants develop spots when exposed to ozone, Lapina said it can affect all plants differently. Some plants don't show visible injuries, but produce lower yields. From her research, Lapina knows this is especially true for soybeans and wheat.
The same variability shows up in humans too. Some people, such as children or older adults, may experience shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms when ozone levels are high.
Lapina said she hopes people who view the exhibit will consider altering their behaviors to help reduce ground ozone levels.
Though people often hear pollution-reducing suggestions such as carpooling or riding a bike, Lapina said she hopes seeing the damage up close will help people better understand how significant their actions are.
"To do small things, we should first know about the problem," she said. "We should realize it's important, that it affects each one of us. If many people can make small changes, it will have an impact."
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