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Hydroxyl radicals, nature's atmospheric scrubbers, are produced by nitrogen pollution too.
Some types of air pollution might be doing a good turn by creating extra doses of atmospheric cleaner, according to new research. A lab study has shown how nitrogen oxides, a largely agricultural pollutant, can help to make hydroxyl radicals — the natural cleaner-upper of our dirty atmosphere. But in doing so they can also produce more ozone, the major component of smog.
The work should help to improve models of atmospheric chemistry, and suggest better ways to control air pollution in big cities.
The hydroxyl radical is a very reactive and short-lived molecule that contains one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom. It is known as the detergent of the lower atmosphere (troposphere), because it is involved in most reactions that break down volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — the hydrocarbon pollutants from urban life.