When you think of ozone, you might be transported back in time to 7th grade science class when you learned about the ozone layer: the part of the atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s UV rays. Its depletion has been cause for concern for decades, but the work done to phase out the usage of harmful chemicals over the years has slowed and even begun to reverse the damage. Beyond the protection it provides in the stratosphere, ozone can be beneficial to us as humans in several other ways.
What is ozone?
Ozone is a gas created from three oxygen atoms. (For reference, water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, hence the chemical formula H2O. Ozone’s formula is O3.) While ozone is beneficial at the stratosphere level, it can be a harmful air pollutant if inhaled on the ground level. Used responsibly, though, ozone has been shown to exhibit many potential benefits.
How is ozone used?
There are several ways ozone is used safely and effectively, primarily to kill bacteria and disinfect. Its third oxygen atom makes the molecule highly unstable and reactive, but that also means it is a powerful natural oxidant very effective at destroying microorganisms.
- Cleaning medical equipment
In 2003, the FDA approved a sterilization process using ozone for processing reusable medical devices. This low-temperature sterilization technique is a positive alternative to other substances like formaldehyde or ethylene oxide, particularly considering the increasing health concerns about formaldehyde. It is also highly beneficial for delicate medical devices like endoscopes, which cannot endure the high heat and humidity of standard steam sterilization.
- Water treatment
Ozone has been safely used in water treatment processes for years. Its powerful oxidation abilities are highly effective in reducing or eliminating color, aftertaste and odor. Most importantly, it kills bacteria and inactive viruses more quickly than any other disinfecting chemical. It also oxidizes heavy metals like iron and manganese, reducing them to very low, safe levels in water supplies. Ozone does this uniquely in that it doesn’t leave behind residue like other chemicals do.
“During that active phase as ozone, it reacts to any organic compound by oxidizing double carbon bonds. So, unlike a lot of other disinfection sterilization technologies, in the act of literally taking a cell membrane apart, in destroying the cell, it converts itself back to oxygen which is a very benign waste product,” says Tim Stoddard, CEO of Cylopss and a trailblazer in ozone sterilization. “If you look at water that has been disinfected with a chlorinated compound versus ozone, you’ll see dead microorganisms in the chlorinated water. If the water has been treated correctly with ozone you should literally see nothing because it should break it down to just its basic elements which are hydrogen and CO2.”
- Ozone therapy
Ozone therapy is a type of alternative medicine that uses liquid forms of ozone to treat medical conditions. While it can be harmful when inhaled, some research suggests it can be used to fight disease. The FDA has not approved this type of treatment for effectiveness or safety, but some researchers say it may be effective for conditions like arthritis, viral disease like HIV, treating ischemic heart disease or treating cancer. More research is needed to confirm its effectiveness and safety.
Ozone can also be used to maintain CPAP accessories. CPAP manufacturers recommend washing the mask and tubing with warm, soapy water after every use. Alternatively, using a device like Sleep8 will conveniently keep your CPAP accessories smelling fresh and well maintained. Simply place your accessories in the bag and seal it up. With the press of a button your Sleep8 will go to work and shut off automatically when finished, so you can set it and forget it. It’ll be ready and waiting for you at bedtime.
The Bottom Line
Ozone is a powerful gas made of oxygen atoms that, when used properly, can be very effective in sterilization and killing bacteria. Though it is harmful when inhaled, it has many other safe and effective uses, including water treatment and disinfecting medical equipment. Research is still being conducted on additional uses like ozone therapy in treating disease, but some studies have already shown potential benefits.