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Permanent Lung Damage from Ozone Air Purifiers?

Permanent Lung Damage from Ozone Air Purifiers?

Ozone generators are now being sold as air cleaners by a number of different companies. Health experts and groups, such as the American Lung Association, have questioned the safety and effectiveness of these devices for almost a century, despite assertions to the contrary from the corporations that make them.

Vendors of ozone-generating equipment often define ozone in a whimsical manner. Ozone is referred to as "active oxygen" or "clean air," which implies that it is just a healthy form of oxygen. The chemistry and toxicology of ozone, on the other hand, are radically different from those of oxygen.

In contrast to the two oxygen atoms we typically breathe, ozone is an oxygen molecule with three atoms. When exposed to an acidic solution, O2 is stable and nonreactive, but O3 is unstable and may dissociate into an O2 and a single ionized oxygen atom.In other words, it works as a "free radicle," i.e., it interacts with other adjacent substances and modifies their chemical makeup. As a result of this propensity to mix with other molecules, producers say their products can trap and remove organic particles from the air.

It is unfortunate that the same chemical qualities that enable ozone to react with organic material in the environment also allow it to react with comparable organic material in the body, possibly leading to detrimental health repercussions for humans. Inhaled ozone may harm the lungs, so it's an annoyance to have it as a part of the pollution we breathe.

Even at low concentrations, ozone may irritate the throat and cause respiratory issues. It also affects long-term respiratory conditions like asthma and hinders the body's capacity to fight respiratory infections.

Telomeres are thought to be responsible for cellular aging as well as oxidative damage caused by free radicals, according to a widely accepted notion. People are urged to consume a diet high in antioxidants and many do so to prevent the harm that reactive compounds like ozone may inflict.

A 1996 EPA study found that long-term exposure to ozone may cause irreversible lung damage, although most individuals recover from acute exposure. The EPA considers ozone to be an air pollutant and has established air quality guidelines that allow local governments to notify the public when ozone levels in metropolitan areas are high. It is recommended that asthmatics and people with chronic lung illness remain inside while ozone levels are high, while healthy individuals are advised to avoid excessive outdoor activities that might increase their breathing rate in the contaminated air. It's hard to fathom why anybody would purchase a gadget that creates ozone in their own houses when it's generally recommended that people stay out of the sun.


The ozone emission of indoor medical equipment must not exceed 0.05 ppm, as mandated by the FDA. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees should not be exposed to ozone at levels greater than 0.10 ppm throughout the course of an eight-hour workday. If NIOSH advises a maximum concentration of 0.10 ppm, it should not be exceeded, even for short periods of time. The EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standard calls for an 8-hour average outdoor concentration of 0.08 ppm.

The expression "good up high-terrible locally" was created by the EPA to distinguish between ozone in the upper and lower atmospheres. Up in the high atmosphere, between 32,000 and 164,000 feet above Earth's surface, stratospheric ozone serves as a screen for harmful UV sun radiation. Refrigerators and cooling systems employ CFC chemicals, which are destroying the ozone layer. Research by the American Geophysical Union demonstrates that the pace of stratospheric ozone degradation is slowing after the negotiation of an international pact, the Montreal Protocol, commencing in 1987 and ending in 1996.

At concentrations below public health guidelines, ozone has minimal capacity to eliminate interior air pollutants, but it still has the potential to cause long-term respiratory irritation. Ozone generators are inefficient in eliminating indoor air pollution.

According to ozone vendors, the only byproducts of chemical reactions with ozone are carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water. For a variety of reasons, this is deceptive advertising.

As ozone is slow to react with many common indoor air pollutants (Boeniger 1995), it's a waste of time to try to use it to clean the air. In addition, ozone generators do not eliminate carbon monoxide (Salls, 1927) or formaldehyde (Shaughnessy et al., 1994) from the air (Esswein and Boeniger, 1994).

The by-products of pollution reactions with ozone can be just as harmful or irritating as the original pollutants themselves (Weschler et al., 1992a, 1992b, 1996; Zhang and Lioy, 1994).

In one experiment, ozone was combined with compounds from fresh carpet in the laboratory. It was found that ozone was able to eliminate several of the compounds, including those that may cause that "new carpet" smell. However, aldehydes from the process boosted the air's overall content of organic compounds, though (Weschler et al., 1992b). Formic acid levels also increase (Zhang and Lioy, 1994).

Reactive byproducts from ozone reactions may themselves create more corrosive and unpleasant substances (Weschler and Shields, 1996, 1997a, 1997b). The presence of ozone generators transforms the inside of a building into a roiling cauldron of chemical activity.

Third, ozone does not eliminate pollen and dust mites from the air on its own. As an alternative, some ozone generators include "ionizer" devices, which distribute positively (and/or negatively) charged ions into the air. An unpleasant coating of grime may form on adjacent objects such as walls or furniture if the particles in the air have a negative (or positive) charge attached to them by these ions. When compared to electrostatic precipitators or high-efficiency particle filters for the removal of pollen and fungus spores in recent trials, the results showed that ionizers were useless. (1994; 1996) (Shaughnessy et al.; Pierce and colleagues).

No matter how high the ozone concentrations are, they are ineffectual at purifying the air. There is evidence that ozone-producing equipment may exceed acceptable output limits in certain cases. The final ozone concentration in the air might vary greatly depending on the brand and type of the machine utilized, as well as the size of the space in which it is placed.

A big ozone generator indicated by the manufacturer for rooms "up to 3,000 square feet" was installed in a 350 square foot room and ran at a high setting in a study by Shaughnessy and Oatman (1991). At levels of 0.50 to 0.80 ppm, the air in the room exceeded national health guidelines by a factor of 5 to 10.

Ozone generators were put through their paces with doors open and closed and with the central ventilation system fan switched on and off alternately during an EPA assessment conducted in 1995. Results demonstrated that several ozone generators, when operated at maximum settings in a sealed room, regularly generated dangerous amounts of 0.20 to 0.30 ppm when the room was sealed. As long as the doors of the units were open, the concentrations remained safe for human consumption.

Because ozone generator output and concentration may vary so widely, it's hard for customers to determine how much ozone is really in the air they're inhaling. At least one company is selling machines with ozone sensors to keep ambient ozone levels below acceptable limits, which is why they're being sold. The reliability of these sensors is now being tested by the EPA.

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