Discovered in 1840, yet so little is known or written about this mystery gas, that is touted to be a "natural sanitizer and deodorizer." Does it really destroy odors without leaving a residue? Is it safe? Can it really sterilize air? What does it do to humans? Why do so few know about it or use it? Is ozone air pollution in our cities, or is it protecting us from the sun?
Let’s start with natural ozone in the atmosphere, also known as the ozonesphere, which is a protective layer of ozone 6 to 30 miles above the planet’s surface, that contains approximately 10 ppm (parts per million) of ozone, which protects the earth’s surface from harmful UV (ultrviolet light) radiation and prevents heat loss from the earth’s surface. This layer is made by the sun’s UV waves bombarding oxygen (O2) molecules. The UV bombardment causes one of the oxygen atoms to split and form ozone or O3. The third atom is loosely held to the new ozone molecule which has a 20 to 100 hour half life (every 20 to 100 hours, one-half converts back to O2 or oxygen).
The sun is continuously converting O2 to O3 and O3 is continually reverting back to O2. Therefore, as is the way with nature, it balances itself. Added to this fragile balance of nature is man-made chloroflorocarbons for aerosol and refrigeration gases also known as ODS (ozone depleting substances). These gases have an affinity for attacking and depleting ozone. Conversely, ozone will destroy ODS. However, it is like the bee that stings you and dies. You see, for the O3 to destroy the ODS, it must give up its third atom, so now the ozone dies or is converted to O2 or oxygen. This scenario does not seem too adverse, until you consider it takes 10,000 ozone molecules to destroy one ODS molecule. This could present a serious dilemma, and is the theory behind the ozone layer depletion.
If ozone is far above in the ozonesphere, why do major cities post ozone levels as part of their air pollution reports? One of the major benefits of ozone is its tremendous ability to oxidize substances. It is thousands of times faster than chlorine and disinfects water 3 to 4 times more efficently.
Ozone’s third atom, the loosely held atom, has a strong tendency to break away and attach itself to other substances, which changes the O2 oxygen and adds a new atom to the host substance, which thereby oxidizes the host substance. This can be the perfect scenario for air pollution clean-up! The problem is ozone wants to oxidize everything, and if we are exposed to excess amounts, it will irritate our lungs, eyes, and skin. This is why cities post ozone levels. Although many scientists believe city ozone is good and helps clean up pollution, some also believe the negative effects of ozone outweighs its benefits.
The E. P. A. limits for ozone levels in urban areas is .12 ppm. The level of ozone in Los Angeles is often times three times this limit. The .12 ppm level is also frequently exceeded by many other cities. Why? Once again, we go back to the sun’s UV light waves. Only this time, they are striking nitrogen oxide from auto exhaust and factory emissions and converting nitrous oxide to ozone.
Of course the ozone will attack other pollutants and oxidize them as well, so you can see the dilemma. If we could only leave for a few days and douse our atmosphere with ozone, all of our pollutants would be oxidized and we could start over. This may be true in theory, but obviously we will never get the opportunity to find out. The questions could be asked; what is worse, breathing ozone or nitrogen oxide? Another natural occurrence of ozone is produced from lightning. The electrical discharge of lightning creates ozone which is why the air smells so fresh and clean after a thunderstorm. The ozone oxidized the pollutants in the air. Ozone also occurs naturally from solar powered chemical reactions involving emissions from trees and plants (commonly known as photosynthesis).
Many scientist believe the fresh mountain air and forest haze come from this naturally produced ozone. The point is ozone is an excellant, but powerful oxidizer.
Just as fire oxidizes organic matter and changes one substance to another substance, and rust oxidizes inorganic matter and changes the properties of a substance, ozone will oxidize a substance and literally destroy the molecule. So there is no question of its ability to oxidize organic substances, sanitize air, destroy odors, toxic fumes, bacteria, viruses, algae, fungus, mildew, and mold.
This naturally occurring gas that is an excellent oxidizer and can eliminate air and water pollutants, will unfortunately also oxidize us because ozone cannot differentiate between good organic molecules and bad. So what do we do? Not use it because it is dangerous? There are some who would say yes to that statement. A more progressive approach to all oxidizers such as ozone and chlorine would be to utilize them in a responsible manner.
Since learning how to artifically produce ozone using electrical discharge or corona discharge, the method has been used in Europe for water purification since the early 1900’s and is rapidly gaining popularity in municipal water plants in the United States. In recent years, ozone qualities have been realized in the wastewater clean-up business. Industries have been using ozone successfully for many years and in a wide range of applications, such as food processing and preservation, smoke stack emission control, odor control, smoke and flood damage retoration, beverage processing, swimming pools, algae removal in ponds, spa purification, sick building restoration, indoor air pollution control, etc.
In the 1970’s an inexpensive and reliable method of making low levels of ozone was discovered utilizing a specific wave of ultraviolet light. Ozone generated from ultraviolet light is just as effective, although less concentrated, as electrical discharge ozone. The production method is strictly a decision of cost, reliability, maintenance, and concentration.
Recently, ozone generators have been appearing on the market as continuous flow air purifiers for homes, sick buildings, hospitals, etc. The Government has set a limit of .04 ppm for the ozone from electronic air cleaners.
A company engaged in ozone application will be in a favorable environmental business for the "Nineties". However, just as today’s doctors practice defensive medicine, a prudent ozone purification service company must practice defensive business techniques even though no human death has ever been recorded due to overexposure of ozone. OSHA and the British Health and Safety Department document ozone toxicity to man with effects ranging from irritation to mucous membranes to pulmonary edema.
There are two very distinct business opportunities here. First, there is the professional restoration use, which has been using ozone successfully for many years primarily for flood, fire, and sick building restoration, as well as duct cleaning and odor and bateria control. The second is passive ozonation of indoor occupied space. This is a relatively new concept that has recently been receiving a lot of media attention. First, let’s discuss the professional restoration business.
A responsible and safe commercial ozone sterilization or deordorizing service program should consist of the following:
- operator training,
- breathing masks for operators,
- caution signs,
- ozone level meters,
- preplanning and dose level calculations, and
- personnel evacuation.
These precautions are necessary due to the heavy dosages of ozone needed (in some cases 1 to 5 ppm). These levels are beyond the human tolerance level of 1 ppm.
An ozone sterilization and deodorizing business could turn into the forerunner of environmental business to be in the "Nineties", provided safety precautions and common sense procedures are followed. The addition of ozone to your menu of equipment sales and services could be the first step in rounding out your business. There are unlimited applications for this oxidizer, and with a responsible plan you could sell the equipment or offer deodorizing or disinfecting services in the following areas:
- sick office buildings,
- apartment rentals,
- gyms/workout facilities,
- houses with cooking, pets, or smoke odors,
- medical facilities,
- smoke (fire restorations),
- auto detailing/used car lots,
- real estate agents/companies,
- trash/garbage compactor companies,
- marina boat dealers,
- food processing companies,
- flood restoration,
- funeral homes/mortuaries,
- r.v. camper rental companies,
- condo associations,
- swimming pools,
- farms/livestock yards, and
- janitorial services/carpet cleaning companies.
While experimenting on ozone’s effectiveness on food preservation, it was discovered that significant reductions (96.6 %) in mold, bacteria, and fungi were acheived with ozone levels as low as .02 ppm, which is one-half the regulatory limit for occupied areas. With this information, testing was conducted utilizing passive ozonation in homes, food processing facilities, medical facilities and offices. All confirmed reduction in the 90% range of bacteria, fungi, and mold while also destroying odors. The interesting point is that .02ppm rooms can be safely and legally occupied.
This presents a new business opportunity for a strong after-market sale. After completion of clean-up contract work, a sale of small room or central passive ozonators could be made. This would provide ongoing odor, mold, mildew, and bacteria control, in addition to providing a cleaner, healthier and safer building.
The use of safe, low level passive ozonation in occupied areas offers us the following benefits:
- less colds and flus, which are usually caught by indoor air transfer of germs and viruses,
- lower incidents of food poisoning or food spoilage,
- longer shelf life of foods, and
- reduction of indoor air pollution for better quality of air.
We breathe in approximately 23,000 times a day and intake 435 cubic feet of air per day. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were clean air! Ozone could very well be the opportunity of the 21st Century.
Ronald G. Fink, BSME is the President of RGF Environmental Group. For more information visit their website at http://www.rgf.com