OZONE GENERATORS THAT ARE SOLD AS AIR CLEANERS
An Assessment of Effectiveness and Health Consequences
|Introduction and Purpose|
Ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners intentionally produce the gas ozone. Often the vendors of ozone generators make statements and distribute material that lead the public to believe that these devices are always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollution. For almost a century, health professionals have refuted these claims (Sawyer, et. al 1913; Salls, 1927; Boeniger, 1995; American Lung Association, 1997; Al-Ahmady, 1997). The purpose of this document is to provide accurate information regarding the use of ozone-generating devices in indoor occupied spaces. This information is based on the most credible scientific evidence currently available.
Some vendors suggest that these devices have been approved by the federal government for use in occupied spaces. To the contrary, NO agency of the federal government has approved these devices for use in occupied spaces. Because of these claims, and because ozone can cause health problems at high concentrations, several federal government agencies have worked in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to produce this public information document.
|WHAT IS OZONE?|
|Ozone is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen form the basic oxygen molecule--the oxygen we breathe that is essential to life. The third oxygen atom can detach from the ozone molecule, and re-attach to molecules of other substances, thereby altering their chemical composition. It is this ability to react with other substances that forms the basis of manufacturers' claims.|
|HOW IS OZONE HARMFUL?|
The same chemical properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic material outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic material that makes up the body, and potentially cause harmful health consequences. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections. People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone. Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone. Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects. Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures (US EPA, 1996a, 1996b).
Manufacturers and vendors of ozone devices often use misleading terms to describe ozone. Terms such as "energized oxygen" or "pure air" suggest that ozone is a healthy kind of oxygen. Ozone is a toxic gas with vastly different chemical and toxicological properties from oxygen. Several federal agencies have established health standards or recommendations to limit human exposure to ozone. These exposure limits are summarized in Table 1.
|Table 1. Ozone Heath Effects and Standards|
|IS THERE SUCH A THING AS "GOOD OZONE" AND "BAD OZONE"?|
|The phrase "good up high - bad nearby" has been used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the distinction between ozone in the upper and lower atmosphere. Ozone in the upper atmosphere--referred to as "stratospheric ozone"--helps filter out damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Though ozone in the stratosphere is protective, ozone in the atmosphere - which is the air we breathe - can be harmful to the respiratory system. Harmful levels of ozone can be produced by the interaction of sunlight with certain chemicals emitted to the environment (e.g., automobile emissions and chemical emissions of industrial plants). These harmful concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere are often accompanied by high concentrations of other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, fine particles, and hydrocarbons. Whether pure or mixed with other chemicals, ozone can be harmful to health.|
|ARE OZONE GENERATORS EFFECTIVE IN CONTROLLING INDOOR AIR POLLUTION?|
Available scientific evidence shows that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has little potential to remove indoor air contaminants. Some manufacturers or vendors suggest that ozone will render almost every chemical contaminant harmless by producing a chemical reaction whose only by-products are carbon dioxide, oxygen and water. This is misleading.
There is evidence to show that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is not effective at removing many odor-causing chemicals.
If used at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone applied to indoor air does not effectively remove viruses, bacteria, mold, or other biological pollutants.
|IF I FOLLOW MANUFACTURERS' DIRECTIONS, CAN I BE HARMED?|
Results of some controlled studies show that concentrations of ozone considerably higher than these standards are possible even when a user follows the manufacturer's operating instructions. There are many brands and models of ozone generators on the market. They vary in the amount of ozone they can produce. In many circumstances, the use of an ozone generator may not result in ozone concentrations that exceed public health standards. But many factors affect the indoor concentration of ozone so that under some conditions ozone concentrations may exceed public health standards.
|WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO CONTROL OZONE EXPOSURE WITH AN OZONE GENERATOR?|
The actual concentration of ozone produced by an ozone generator depends on many factors. Concentrations will be higher if a more powerful device or more than one device is used, if a device is placed in a small space rather than a large space, if interior doors are closed rather than open and, if the room has fewer rather than more materials and furnishings that adsorb or react with ozone and, provided that outdoor concentrations of ozone are low, if there is less rather than more outdoor air ventilation.
The proximity of a person to the ozone generating device can also affect one's exposure. The concentration is highest at the point where the ozone exits from the device, and generally decreases as one moves further away.
Manufacturers and vendors advise users to size the device properly to the space or spaces in which it is used. Unfortunately, some manufacturers' recommendations about appropriate sizes for particular spaces have not been sufficiently precise to guarantee that ozone concentrations will not exceed public health limits. Further, some literature distributed by vendors suggests that users err on the side of operating a more powerful machine than would normally be appropriate for the intended space, the rationale being that the user may move in the future, or may want to use the machine in a larger space later on. Using a more powerful machine increases the risk of excessive ozone exposure.
Ozone generators typically provide a control setting by which the ozone output can be adjusted. The ozone output of these devices is usually not proportional to the control setting. That is, a setting at medium does not necessarily generate an ozone level that is halfway between the levels at low and high. The relationship between the control setting and the output varies considerably among devices, although most appear to elevate the ozone output much more than one would expect as the control setting is increased from low to high. In experiments to date, the high setting in some devices generated 10 times the level obtained at the medium setting (US EPA, 1995). Manufacturer's instructions on some devices link the control setting to room size and thus indicate what setting is appropriate for different room sizes. However, room size is only one factor affecting ozone levels in the room.
In addition to adjusting the control setting to the size of the room, users have sometimes been advised to lower the ozone setting if they can smell the ozone. Unfortunately, the ability to detect ozone by smell varies considerably from person to person, and one's ability to smell ozone rapidly deteriorates in the presence of ozone. While the smell of ozone may indicate that the concentration is too high, lack of odor does not guarantee that levels are safe.
At least one manufacturer is offering units with an ozone sensor that turns the ozone generator on and off with the intent of maintaining ozone concentrations in the space below health standards. EPA is currently evaluating the effectiveness and reliability of these sensors, and plans to conduct further research to improve society's understanding of ozone chemistry indoors. EPA will report its findings as the results of this research become available.
|CAN OZONE BE USED IN UNOCCUPIED SPACES?|
|Ozone has been extensively used for water purification, but ozone chemistry in water is not the same as ozone chemistry in air. High concentrations of ozone in air, when people are not present, are sometimes used to help decontaminate an unoccupied space from certain chemical or biological contaminants or odors (e.g., fire restoration). However, little is known about the chemical by-products left behind by these processes (Dunston and Spivak, 1997). While high concentrations of ozone in air may sometimes be appropriate in these circumstances, conditions should be sufficiently controlled to insure that no person or pet becomes exposed. Ozone can adversely affect indoor plants, and damage materials such as rubber, electrical wire coatings, and fabrics and art work containing susceptible dyes and pigments (U.S. EPA, 1996a).|
|WHAT OTHER METHODS CAN BE USED TO CONTROL INDOOR AIR POLLUTION?|
The three most common approaches to reducing indoor air pollution, in order of effectiveness, are:
Of the three, the first approach--source control-- is the most effective. This involves minimizing the use of products and materials that cause indoor pollution, employing good hygiene practices to minimize biological contaminants (including the control of humidity and moisture, and occasional cleaning and disinfection of wet or moist surfaces), and using good housekeeping practices to control particles.
The second approach--outdoor air ventilation--is also effective and commonly employed. Ventilation methods include installing an exhaust fan close to the source of contaminants, increasing outdoor air flows in mechanical ventilation systems, and opening windows, especially when pollutant sources are in use.
The third approach-- air cleaning--is not generally regarded as sufficient in itself, but is sometimes used to supplement source control and ventilation. Air filters, electronic particle air cleaners and ionizers are often used to remove airborne particles, and gas adsorbing material is sometimes used to remove gaseous contaminants when source control and ventilation are inadequate.
See Additional Resources section below for more detailed information about these methods.
Whether in its pure form or mixed with other chemicals, ozone can be harmful to health. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts of ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and, throat irritation. It may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma as well as compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.
Some studies show that ozone concentrations produced by ozone generators can exceed health standards even when one follows manufacturer's instructions. Many factors affect ozone concentrations including the amount of ozone produced by the machine(s), the size of the indoor space, the amount of material in the room with which ozone reacts, the outdoor ozone concentration, and the amount of ventilation. These factors make it difficult to control the ozone concentration in all circumstances.
Available scientific evidence shows that, at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution. The concentration of ozone would have to greatly exceed health standards to be effective in removing most indoor air contaminants. In the process of reacting with chemicals indoors, ozone can produce other chemicals that themselves can be irritating and corrosive.
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