by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
© Copyright 2005 Residential Inspections LLC, All Rights Reserved
Preface: The following information is provided to help you better understand the difference between natural, beneficial levels of ozone found in fresh air, which can also be duplicated indoors with residential air purifiers; and the potentially unsafe levels of ozone produced by fuel combustion from millions of automobiles and aircraft, typically found in large cities with heavy air pollution.
What is ozone?
Ozone, also known as "activated oxygen," is an oxidizer produced by nature to keep our air clean and safe to breathe. Nature converts regular oxygen into activated oxygen (ozone) to oxidize (burn up) harmful air pollutants. Through the process of reacting with most air pollutants, ozone converts these harmful substances into more harmless compounds, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor. After ozone reacts with pollutants in the air, it instantly reverts back into breathable oxygen. Ozone is created naturally outdoors, primarily from sunshine and lightning from over 40, 000 electrical storms that occur on earth daily. The ozone made from these sources is considered both essential and harmless. These beneficial levels of ozone are found virtually everywhere on earth including in forests, meadows, over the ocean, and up in the mountain tops; far away from the high pollution levels found in cites. This is how our air has been purified outdoors for thousands of years before industrialization. This tiny amount of ground level ozone is absolutely essential to life. Without natural amounts of ozone in the outdoor air we breathe, every living thing on earth would likely die from massive chemical and biological pollution.
Ozone can also be produced through fuel combustion. When man produces too much ozone, such as by millions of automobiles and aircraft in large cities, the ozone itself can become irritating to our respiratory system. These large cities will then issue "ozone alerts." These higher levels of ozone are typically proportional to the amount of pollution in the air. Understanding that the many air pollutants produced from combustion cannot easily be measured, the ozone, which can easily be measured, is used as a pollution level "indicator." It should be acknowledged that the respiratory problems experienced in these large cities are directly related to the massive amounts of particles and other combustion pollutants (the visible haze) in that air. Further, the ozone in that polluted air is also simultaneously acting as a purifier to help clean the pollutants from that air.
Regarding ozone safety, it is the amount of ozone in the air that is important. As an example, fire is also an oxidizer, which can be both good and bad. A small amount of fire is great to heat a home or cook a meal. At the two extremes: no fire at all could leave one cold and hungry, or too much fire could burn a home down. In essence, certain levels of fire are beneficial and others are not. Nonetheless, our need for fire must be acknowledged and proper levels must be maintained to receive the benefits from it. This analogy of fire parallels the distinction between safe levels of ozone being maintained indoors by small air purifiers and the other two extremes: the total absence of ozone indoors and vehicular levels in large cities. We must remember that nature depicts our need for such things as ozone, ions, oxygen, food, water, sleep and exercise. Too much or too little of any of these and we will likely become ill. Yet, in just the right amounts, they promote good health.
Can we trust nature's air purification ozone levels?
We all know that we need oxygen in our air to stay alive. However, too much or not enough oxygen can be a detriment to our health. The exact amount of oxygen that we need for optimum health is determined for us by nature. Likewise, the amount of activated oxygen (ozone) essential for a healthy existence on earth is also accurately determined for us by nature. Despite nature's natural pollution from oil fires, forest fires, volcanic gasses, and all of the added pollution from nearly six billion people on the planet, nature still does a miraculous job of purifying earths very limited air supply… without the use of chemical air fresheners or air filters. This is one of the reasons we like to go out for fresh air and is clear proof that we can trust in natural ozone levels.
Conversely, most indoor environments have air that is missing healthy levels of ozone. Surprisingly, these indoor environments can easily have air pollution levels as much as 500% higher than those found outdoors in large cities. This indoor air pollution can contain three different types of contaminants that include: 1) floating dust particles from a variety of unpleasant sources, 2) chemical gasses being continually emitted from carpet, furniture, plastics, clothing and building materials, some of which off-gas for as long as 20 years, and 3) biological contaminants such as mold, mildew, dust mites, mite excrement, bacteria and viruses. These pollutants can cause a long list of respiratory ailments and other ill health effects.
In today's energy efficient structures, there is virtually no ozone available in our indoor air because there is no source for it. Do we have direct sunshine that does not pass through glass, or electrical lightning bolts inside of our houses or the buildings we work in? Of course not. Do we even open our windows? Not as often as we should; if we did, the beneficial effects of any entering ozone will only last about five minutes after closing the windows before converting back into oxygen. The air then starts to become rancid again. If we could leave all of our windows and doors wide open, 24 hours a day, all year long, we would have much less of an ozone deficiency problem in our homes. It is obviously impractical to leave our windows open for security reasons, as well as indoor temperature and humidity control. This is why millions of people now use air purifiers to replace the natural, beneficial levels of ozone in their indoor air.
Why is there so much confusion about ozone?
There is considerable confusion regarding the use of indoor air purification systems that produce ozone as part of the air purification process. This confusion always stems from a lack of understanding about the "levels" of ozone in air. Adding to this confusion, all levels of ozone are measured in tiny amounts called "parts per million" (PPM), which means that both safe and unsafe levels are called "low" levels. There is, however, a very significant difference between .03 PPM, typically found in fresh outdoor air and 1.0 PPM that can be found in smog. This amount in fresh air for instance is 33 times lower than the smog level. In fresh air, nature produces a level that we all enjoy breathing. On the other hand, the much higher amount found in city smog could be irritating to eyes and lungs.
People who replace the safe levels of ozone in their indoor air enjoy, and often rave about, the benefits they receive. Yet, other people are afraid of using ozone indoors because they associate these beneficial levels of ozone with the much higher levels of ozone produced by automobiles and aircraft. The irony is that these same fearful people breathe beneficial levels of ozone every time they step outdoors for "fresh" air. In truth, for any scientist, doctor, or government agency to compare the safe level of ozone replaced indoors by small air purifiers, to the amounts of ozone produced by multi-millions of vehicles, offers an "apples to oranges" comparison that lacks both scientific evidence and common sense.
Further, it should be no surprise that government information regarding ozone and air purifiers is very confusing. Documents referenced by the government refer primarily to levels of ozone from mass vehicular combustion. They, incorrectly, do not address the distinct difference between these higher levels and those produced by small residential air purifiers. One has to read through numerous pages of information about possible health affects of vehicular ozone to find the official statement that those levels of ozone below the government standard of .05 PPM are known to be harmless. This misinformation and lack of clarification only serves to confuse people who do not thoroughly research Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
Who profits from this confusion?
It would appear that there are five groups that significantly profit when people remain confused on the ozone issue. First, there are those who manufacture and sell chemical deodorizers, which literally pollute indoor air while attempting to cover up odors caused from lack of ozone. Sales are evidenced by the huge displays of these products found in stores everywhere. Second, there are the HEPA air filter companies that profit when people do not understand the difference between basic filtration and ozone-enhanced air purification technologies. Third, there are doctors, many of whom now have waiting lists of people who are suffering with breathing disorders. Certainly most doctors have the best interests of their patients in mind; however, medical doctors have no IAQ training and do not fully understand the seriousness of the indoor air pollution problem. Unfortunately, the medical alternatives are surgery or prescription drugs for those who suffer IAQ-related illnesses. (Note: Do not discontinue any medications without first consulting your doctor.) Fourth, there are the manufacturers and dealers of drugs, which treat only the symptoms associated with breathing indoor air. Ads and commercials for these drugs are now shown repeatedly on national television and in magazines. Despite the long list of side effects that can, in some cases, be worse than the breathing disorder, these companies are selling multi-billions of dollars worth of drugs to people suffering from indoor air. Fifth, our government approves these drugs, and then collects taxes on them from people who often become as dependent on these breathing medications as street addicts do to illicit drugs. They know if you cannot breathe, you'll pay the money. With so much money being made treating only symptoms, one should consider why so much confusion and misinformation is being disseminated regarding the benefits of ozone replacement. The absurdity is that those same, supposedly learned people, who perpetuate misstatements about ozone, breathe air that contains ozone and has been purified by ozone every time they step out for fresh air.
Are all ozone producing air purifiers safe?
During a government-cited test, a machine rated for a large area of 3,000 sq. ft. was placed into a small room of only 350 sq. ft. and then adjusted to the maximum setting. Not surprisingly, it was discovered they had to drastically violate the instructions, by nearly 10 times, in order to achieve levels that are not recommended for occupied spaces. These higher levels can create a temporary smell similar to chlorine from an indoor pool and are used only to sanitize a room or eliminate strong odor problems in temporarily unoccupied rooms. While sanitizing and odor removal are beneficial features, this was not the correct setting for normal indoor air cleaning in occupied areas. And, of course, we do not operate our home appliances on maximum settings unless we have a beneficial reason to do so, and then only according to instructions. Additionally, any air purifier that produces ozone should have full adjustability to control the ozone output.
Virtually every governmental agency and health organization agrees that the average levels of ozone produced naturally throughout the earth are completely harmless to our health. While there are now a number of companies manufacturing air purifiers that reproduce ozone indoors, ensuring scientific validation for safe levels of ozone production is recommended before purchase. At the time of this writing, there is only one company, which as a result of a federal court hearing, has had their air purifying efficiency claims validated in governmentally-approved laboratories. This company proved that their air purification systems could effectively eliminate polluting odors, tobacco smoke, and even secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is one of the most difficult indoor air pollutants to eliminate because it consists of thousands of chemical gasses and microscopic particles that can trigger allergy and asthma attacks. This same company has also proven that their air purifiers can kill harmful mold, mildew, and bacteria under normal use, and rapidly when used in the sanitizing mode in unoccupied rooms. Additionally, in June 2001, the FDA approved ozone as an antimicrobial agent in the water we drink and on the very food we eat, because it works and is safer than other means of disinfection.
Are there known benefits from ozone replacement?
At the time of this writing, the leading company in ozone replacement technologies has sold multi-millions of ozone replacement air purification systems. Most of these systems are being used 24 hours a day, some for over 17 years. They are being used in every conceivable indoor environment including homes, offices, day care centers, bars, restaurants, nursing homes, factories, hospitals, laboratories, retail stores, etc. With billions upon billions of hours of use, there has not been so much as one substantiated injury from replacing beneficial levels of ozone to indoor air. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.
People who have been replacing the missing ozone to their indoor air have been giving testimony to the many benefits. Users have claimed that difficult odors from pets, smokers, mold and mildew are virtually eliminated; that their homes smell like fresh air; that house plants thrive and cut flowers last longer; even that their pets feel better and have been seen sleeping in front of air purifiers, just as instinctively as they would an open window. Farmers who are now replacing ozone to the air in barns have reported significantly reduced barn odors, as well as a reduced rate of animal death by disease. When one considers the high levels of airborne contaminants being found in virtually all indoor environments, perhaps it should not seem unusual that there would be so many personal testimonies from people replacing the ozone in their buildings.
As astounding as these testimonies are, it is the stories concerning humans that are most remarkable. There have been claims of chronic headaches disappearing, allergy and asthma symptoms ceasing or diminishing, snoring cessation, increased sense of smell, children and adults sleeping better, etc. It should be noted that despite the testimonies from those who purify their indoor air, it is illegal for the manufacturers and dealers of air purification systems to make any health claims such as these. While testimonials may compel us to consider the possible benefits of natural air purification indoors, air purifiers only treat the air, not people. They are not guaranteed to cure health problems and are not sold as medical devices or as a medical "cure."
Does ozone replacement solve all IAQ problems?
Absolutely not. There is no single measure that can solve all IAQ problems. As important as ozone is to our indoor air quality, it is only one of the factors involved in improving our indoor air. For the best possible indoor air quality, there are five other strategies that should be followed in addition to ozone replacement: elimination of indoor contaminants through source reduction; ventilation to bring in oxygenated air from outdoors through the installation of make-up air vents and by opening windows as often as possible; filtration (trapping) of physical particles through the use of quality air filters in furnaces, as well as, HEPA filtration in vacuum cleaners and room air cleaners; ionization of airborne particles that are too small to be trapped in filters but equally, if not more, dangerous to our lungs; and dehumidification to control biological contaminants.
With millions suffering from indoor air related illnesses, people should take every precaution they can, including natural ozone replacement.
How bad is the indoor air in houses and buildings?
Since the 1970's, we have been making our homes very airtight and energy efficient. Consequently, this causes homes to collect, compound and even create pollutants in the indoor air we breathe. Correlated with the energy saving measures, we have had epidemic increases in the number of people who are now suffering with allergies, asthma and other health problems. Hundreds of thousands of people are being hospitalized and millions now need doctor visits, drugs, shots and inhalers. Indoor air pollution is a widespread problem in both new and old homes, whether located in cities or in rural areas. It is non-discriminating, affecting everyone from infants to senior citizens. The U.S. government has considered the indoor air pollution problem to be a #1 environmental health concern.
On average, each human will breathe approximately 2,500 gallons of air every day without proper consideration of its purity. We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors breathing continuous amounts of particle pollutants, off-gassing chemicals and airborne biological pollutants. All three of the categories of indoor air pollution can affect everyone to varying degrees with a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms can include stuffy nose, nasal drip, ear infections, itchy throat, itchy eyes, tearing eyes, sneezing, chronic coughs, wheezing, headaches, sleep difficulty, snoring, dizziness, tiredness, fatigue, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, sinusitis, sinus infections, mild and severe asthma, as well as allergies to dust, dander, pollen, mites, mold and chemicals. All of these symptoms can be caused by, or aggravated by indoor air contaminants. Odors from new construction materials, remodeling, paints, urethanes, new carpet, new vinyl, house pets, smoke, mold and mildew are also indicative of indoor air contamination. If we lived outdoors and breathed fresh air all of the time, it would be unlikely that we would be experiencing these epidemic levels of symptoms. If you or those you care about suffer from any of the symptoms associated with indoor air, it is recommended to take every measure possible to clean your indoor air, without delay. The longer the exposure, the greater the health risks.
(See articles on ions and air purification systems.)
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