Ozone generators intentionally produce the toxic gas ozone and are sold as air cleaners for commercial and residential applications. Specifically, they are advertised to deodorize, disinfect, kill or remove dangerous or irritating airborne particles in indoor environments. Ozone is the principal element of the ozone layer, which traps the sun’s heat and is essential to life on Earth. Unlike breathable, stable oxygen molecules, which are composed of two oxygen atoms, ozone is composed of three. The third oxygen atom in ozone can easily detach from the ozone molecule and reattach to other substances, altering their chemistry. Ozone generators produce the gas in large enough quantities that unstable organic compounds will react with the gas and, supposedly, be altered so that they will no longer be irritating or dangerous.
- Note that ozone can dull the olfactory sense, a fact that has led many experts to believe that ozone’s deodorizing abilities are at least partially due to an altered odor perception, rather than any change in the environment.
Unfortunately, the same chemical properties that allow ozone to alter organic material in household air also give it the ability to react with organic material inside the human body. Even low levels of ozone exposure can cause the following conditions:
- coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, and throat irritation;
- worsened chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma;
- increased risk of developing bronchitis or pneumonia; and
- compromised ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.
People’s susceptibility to ozone varies widely. An ozone generator should never be operated in occupied spaces, and the area should be adequately vented before people or animals are allowed to re-enter.
According to a report produced by the EPA, ozone generators are ineffective at reducing levels of formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, despite claims by manufacturers. Also, from the toxins with which ozone does react, there is a potential for the creation of new, potentially more dangerous toxins. For example, ozone mixed with chemicals from new carpet can create aldehydes, which can irritate the lungs. Other reactions may create formic acid, another irritant. The potential for chemical reactions in the average house is difficult to predict.
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