Is Ozone Safe?
Many companies marketing air purifiers today are causing much confusion over the difference between ozone and smog. This confusion is causing the public to believe that ozone and smog are one and the same. This could not be further from the truth. Smog is not ozone! Smog is a combination of harmful pollutants and chemicals found in the air. This occurs more frequently in the air of heavily congested inner cities. Smog is that haze that you see hanging over some of our larger cities around the world. Sources of VOCs and NO2 include the following:
• Automobiles, trucks and buses
• Gasoline storage and transfer
• Large combustion and industry sources such as utilities
• Industrial use of solvents and degreasing agents
• Consumer products such as paints and cleaners, Off-road engines such as aircraft, locomotives, construction equipment, and lawn and garden equipment.
Ozone is formed through a complex chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (smog) in the presence of sunlight and heat. Ozone is O3, three atoms of oxygen linked together, rather than the two atoms of oxygen, O2, and we normally breathe. Ozone is NOT smog.
While some people mistakenly refer to ozone as smog, smog is actually a combination of hydrocarbons, those being CO2, CO, and SO2 that react with UV rays from the sun to form nitric oxides (NOX).
What is commonly called "ozone" in referring to the ground level air quality are really a mixture of different toxic hydrocarbons, not ozone. So the two cannot be the same!
First we need to discuss the positive side of ozone. Ozone''s benefits are widely accepted and recognized throughout the world. Unfortunately, ozone has been largely ignored in the United States. In the future ozone may replace many ineffective forms of air purification, once the public becomes educated to the real benefits of ozone. Mother Nature uses ozone to fight the negative effects of this contaminated air known as smog. Ozone is that fresh air smell you experience after a thunderstorm. The negative ions produce that excited feeling that you experience after that same thunderstorm. Our bodies are electrical. We are attracted to the ionic changes in our atmosphere.
Exposure to high levels of ozone, not low levels of ozone, has been linked to a number of health effects, including significant decreases in lung function, inflammation of the airways, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as cough and pain when taking a deep breath. Exposure can also aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, leading to increased medication use and frequent medical visits. Active children are the group at highest risk from ozone exposure because they often spend a large part of the summer playing outdoors. Children are also more likely to have asthma, which may be aggravated by ozone exposure. Other at-risk groups include adults who are active outdoors (e.g., some outdoor workers) and individuals with lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition, long-term exposure to moderate levels of ozone (above .04) may cause permanent changes in lung structure, leading to premature aging of the lungs and worsening of chronic lung disease.
Ozone also affects vegetation and ecosystems, leading to reductions in agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedlings, and increased plant susceptibility to disease, pests, and other environmental stresses (e.g., harsh weather). In long-lived species, these effects may become evident only after several years or even decades and may result in long-term effects on forest ecosystems. Ground level ozone injury to trees and plants can lead to a decrease in the natural beauty of our national parks and recreation areas.
Other research indicates that the level of ozone in areas such as forests, mountains, urban areas outside of the congestion of the major cities, usually is closer to a safe level of .02-.03 ppm of ozone. This is a far cry from the dangerous levels of ozone that most of the public has been led to believe exists everywhere in nature today. This is just enough ozone to keep our environment safe. These are the levels of ozone that should be used in your home to purify your air. Many environmental experts would try to convince you that any ozone in your home may be potentially dangerous. This could not be further from the truth. The use of ozone to purify the air in your home has prompted other uses for the wonderful benefits of using ozone. Studies are being concluded showing beneficial uses for ozone. One such study was done recently at the University of Purdue.
Taking a clue from air purification systems used in surgical suites, Purdue University researchers have discovered that ozone can eliminate insects in grain storage facilities without harming food quality or the environment. Ironically, the gas is being touted as a fumigant alternative in response to an international treaty banning the use of ozone-layer harming chemicals currently used to rid food storage facilities of insects. When ozone is used for killing grain insects, it lasts for a very short period of time without damaging the environment or the grain, the Purdue scientists report in the January issue Journal of Stored Products Research. "Ozone has a very short life and we''re using relatively low dosages, but enough to kill an insect," said Linda Mason, Purdue entomology associate professor and co-author of the study. "The chemicals currently used can kill everything in and around the grain bin, including people. With ozone, we''re not generating ozone at deadly concentrations, and we have better control over it when it''s present.” Purdue’s Post Harvest Grain Quality Research team began its studies in response to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to prohibit substances deemed dangerous to the Earth''s ozone layer. One such substance is methyl bromide, commonly used against crop pests in the soil and in grain storage facilities. Beginning in 2005, it no longer will be available.
A replacement for chemical fumigants is imperative because insects not only eat the grain; they defecate on it causing development of fungi, primarily Fusarium and Aspergillus. These fungi can release potentially deadly mycotoxins that can cause illness in most livestock and have been linked to some forms of human cancer. In humans, approximately 76 million cases of food-borne disease occur annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts estimate that 5 percent to 10 percent of the world''s food production is lost each year because of insects, and in some countries that figure is believed to be as high as 50 percent. In the latest study, Purdue researchers used ozone to treat rice, popcorn, soft red winter wheat, hard red winter wheat, soybeans and corn by the body. The treatments caused no significant difference in any of the nutritional and metabolic values of these substances in any of the grains studied, Mason said. The scientists began their study after a company that uses ozone air purification systems in hospitals noticed that air vents were cockroach free. Absence of cockroaches in a large building is unusual, so the researchers tested various ozone doses on different insects and found the gas was fatal to bugs.
"All the species we tested seemed affected," Mason said. "The only ones we don''t have control over are immature weevils since they are hidden within the kernels. Ozone, unlike chemical fumigants, doesn''t penetrate into the kernel enough to kill immature insects."
Currently, the researchers are studying ways to use ozone as a preventative treatment by possibly sealing of grain storage facilities with layers of ozone, much the way a jelly jar is capped with wax. This is an example of how beneficial ozone can be but I must reiterate the fact that ozone is not smog!
Here is a list of other benefits to using ozone:
1 Ozone keeps water fresh.
2 Ozone keeps water clean and sparkling.
3. Ozone eliminates oils and other contaminants from water
4. Ozone eliminates odors from the air.
5. Ozone oxidizes iron, sulfur, manganese, and hydrogen sulfate.
6. Ozone eliminates spores, cysts, yeast, and fungus.
7. Ozone destroys bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew.
8. Maybe the most important, ozone protects the earth from deadly radiation.
So why the knock on ozone? Without it Mother Earth would be destroyed!! Here’s the problem! Many air purifier manufacturer’s, for the most part, are using technology that produces levels of ozone that may be harmful to the body.
At levels above .05 or higher, it appears to affect the body in a way that is similar to free radical damage. Long term exposure to these higher levels may be linked, as we discussed earlier, to respiratory and other health concerns. Ozone and particles irritate and inflame the respiratory tract. This is according to Ellen Ceppetelli, RN, MS, director of nursing education at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. and an American Lung Association board member. Ozone can cause a narrowing of airway passages as well as coughing, wheezing, sore throat, shortness of breath, chest tightness, eye irritation, headaches, and nausea. According to the American lung associations report State of the Air: 2006, more than 150 million Americans live in counties in which they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution at least one day during the year. A study published March 15, 2006 in the American Journal of Respiratory, and Critical Care Medicine reported that when particle pollution in a city declines, death rates also drop. The study found that for each 1-microgram decrease in soot per cubic meter of air, death rates from cardiovascular disease by 3% extending the lives of 75,000 Americans every year.
Ozone does exist in the atmosphere. Everyone has heard discussions of the problems with the ozone layer. The ozone layer in the atmosphere exists at a very large distance from the earth. We do not breathe this ozone. The atmospheric ozone shields us from some of the Sun''s radiation. Ozone is also generated when an electrical spark passes an atmosphere containing oxygen. This happens when lightning strikes the earth or an electric motor runs (Yes your laser printer generates some ozone). The key thing to remember is the concentrations that you breathe from lightning and electric motors are very low and of a short duration. There is some discussion about the danger of the ozone generated by laser printers but that is another topic.
Many ozone generators use an electrical mechanism to generate Ozone gas. Newer technology utilizes ozone producing lamps; still others are a combination of ozone and UV. Ozone generators will clean the air. Bacteria in the air are neutralized. Ozone reacts with most airborne particles and the particles are attracted to floor and walls. The particles are not in the air for you to breathe but they do build up on your floors and walls. This phenomenon only occurs, though, when the machine produces free electrons vs negative ions. People that claim that Ozone generators will reduce air borne pollutants are correct. Most skeptics ignore the fact that it''s the free electrons or needle point ionizers that are most likely to cause what is known as "black wall syndrome".
The problem is the straight Ozone cleaners, without a catalyst, are dangerous. Ozone is not dangerous to humans and plants at very low concentrations. The study in Encyclopedia Britannica found that levels as low as 0.12 parts per million have a negative effect on human respiratory systems. This is considered by some to be a low level of ozone. This is actually a high level to humans and animals. The latest Nan technological catalysts will reduce ozone levels produced to very low levels .01-.02 ppm. This is directly over the machine. The ambient air records levels in ppb. This is only a foot or so from the machine. Recent media articles have indicated that at least some Ozone generators do generate dangerous ozone levels. You will read testimonials from Ozone cleaner users who say that the units have changed their lives, asthma suffers can breathe again etc. These are true. Initially the Ozone cleaners would remove all of the air born pollutants making it easier for asthma suffers to breathe. However, the continued exposure to ozone could affect them in a very negative way unless the ozone levels are controlled very carefully. Remember that very low levels of Ozone have been shown to be harmful to microscopic organisms only. So low levels of ozone at the .04 ppm or less level is only harmful if you are bacteria, fungus, virus, or a mold spore. If you are using the newest hydro-photocatalytic nanotechnology, these little pests will also be oxidized. One of the most important points that many HEPA manufacturers and skeptics refuse to acknowledge is that when the hydrated catalysts cause the ozone to decompose the chemical reaction creates negative ions. Hydroxyl ions, hydro peroxides, ozonide ions, and super oxide ions are all produced during this reaction. The benefits of these ions are above and beyond those of ozone. Your body also has natural defenses against those ions that simple organisms, such as bacteria and mold, don''t have.
This new technology appears to be taking the future of air purification to the next level.
Dr. Jeff Bennert Ph.D., C.T.N. Back To Top