Technology - Ozone

 


Ozone is commonly accepted to be a pollutant associated with large urban areas typified by Los Angeles. It is true that ozone is part of smog, but it is also true that ozone exists outside of the smog environments in even the purest of outdoor environments. The highest naturally occurring ozone levels, about .05-.08 parts per million(ppm), are found at the seashore, in forests, or in high mountainous areas - places people usually associate with clean fresh air and healthy outdoor recreation - not pollution. The slightly sharp, but fresh and pleasant, aroma you may have noticed in the air after a lightning storm is ozone, as is the distinctive smell of air-dried laundry. Average outdoor ozone levels in unpolluted areas area between .03-.05 ppm.

It is unfortunate that smog and ozone have been interchanged in the discussion of air pollution because it masks the positive characteristics of ozone as the natural way of dealing with air quality problems. Reports and scientific studies that raise questions about the safety of ozone deal with ozone levels that are above the limits recommended by recognized authorities such as the EPA, the FDA, and OSHA. The focus on smog as "air pollution" has prevented many from seeing the even greater problem of indoor air quality problems.

The same chemical soup exists in our indoor environment as exists in smog. The only variant is the concentration of the pollutant and the total lack of any means of reconditioning that air to natural standards. With our sealed homes and businesses, we have trapped all the pollutants indoors and have eliminated the one chemical that has the capacity to restore the air to its pure state - OZONE. Ozone, second only to hydroxyl radicals, is the most powerful oxidizing agent occurring naturally in our clean outdoor environments, and has the capacity to break down most of the organic chemicals that foul out indoor environments. The highly reactive quality of ozone is why it is such a powerful and efficient cleaner and purifier.

The air we breathe is made up of mostly oxygen and nitrogen. Ozone can be made from common oxygen and high electrical discharge (known as corona discharge) like a lightning storm or can be created by particular ultraviolet light waves. Either of these methods break the oxygen molecule (oxygen is normally found in pairs of atoms, O2) apart. These single oxygen atoms are extremely reactive and they can combine with molecular oxygen, resulting in Ozone (or trivalent oxygen, O3.) When this highly reactive O3 molecule floats in the environment it actively seeks out pollutant molecules. One of the atoms from the ozone will move from the O3 molecule, in the chemical reaction, to the pollutant molecule and destroy it. When the ozone attacks and destroys a pollutant, generally what is left behind is the molecular oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and hydrogen (H2).

This highly reactive quality of ozone is why it is such a powerful and efficient cleaner and purifier. Ozone will react with almost anything, including chemical sources of unpleasant or hazardous indoor odors. Bacteria, molds and mildews, pet odors, many cooking odors, etc., are destroyed when they react with ozone. Like chemical pollutants, the membranes or shells of bacteria contain unsaturated molecules which are destroyed by ozone. Without its protective membrane or shell, the bacterium dies. The same applies to fungi and viruses.