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South African Medical Journal

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Trends in photochemical smog in the Cape Peninsula and the implications for health

R.S. Bailie, R.I. Ehrlich, T.F. Truluck

Abstract


There has been growing public concern over reports of increasing air pollution in the Cape Peninsula. Attention has been focused on the 'brown haze' and on photochemical smog. Because of deficiencies in the monitoring equipment, information on trends in photochemical smog levels over the past decade is limited. Trends in oxides of nitrogen, one of the main precursors of photochemical smog, and therefore an indicator of the potential for its formation, were examined for the period 1984 - 1993. Meaningful data for determining trends were available from only a single site. Increases in mean monthly levels, peak hourly levels and the number of times guidelines were exceeded were demonstrated. Given the dynamics of formation of photochemical smog and the particular role of motor vehicles, it is argued that the trends measured at this site are probably an underestimate of the trends in other parts of the Cape Town metropolitan area. Some of the precursors of photochemical smog, notably nitrogen dioxide, and some of its components, notably ozone, have been shown to be detrimental to respiratory health at levels close to, or below, current recommended guidelines. A continuing increase in these pollutants will therefore result in more respiratory illness, particularly among susceptible groups. This calls for an upgrading of
monitoring of air pollution in Cape Town and for appropriate steps to prevent its further increase.




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