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Is Ozone Safe?

If ozone has been deemed “safe”, then why are there reports online that discuss health problems linked to ozone? Many online reports lack critical information that a person should know to determine whether a particular use of ozone is safe. It is worth noting that ozone has been used for decades in medical facilities around the globe, as a way of eliminating viruses and harmful bacteria. Let’s start out by saying that ozone is a powerful oxidizer, and it can affect your cells much the same way that it effects the cells of bacteria, as such It is important to take proper precautions when using ozone.  But this isn’t unique to ozone among chemicals used to clean.  Take Bleach for example.  Bleach is another powerful oxidizer that can certainly cause damage. We keep it out of the reach of children, and ensure we follow safety procedures when using it. Potential dangers of bleach aside, people use bleach every day across the nation to clean their homes in a safe and effective manner. The key to safety with ozone, bleach, or any other cleaning chemical is to follow the safety instructions and use good common sense. So, think about how ozone is being used whenever you encounter it. Does it involve an air purifier that vents ozone directly into the air you breath? Or is it being contained in a sealed chamber equipped with a carbon (or zeolite) ozone destruction system for the exhaust? Ozone is just like anything else in life, a person needs to understand the how it is being used to understand the context of online reports.

What is Ozone?

Let us start with oxygen because ozone is simply a modified version of the oxygen molecule. Normally oxygen molecules are made up of two oxygen atoms, most people already know the symbol for oxygen is O2. This chemical notation simply means a molecule of 2 Oxygen atoms. Ozone is a colorless gas made up of three oxygen atoms, and the symbol is O3. Ozone is gas that naturally occurs in the atmosphere 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. This is the famed “Ozone Layer”. It protects us from the suns UV radiation. The O2 oxygen absorbs a certain spectrum of UV light and breaks apart into unstable O1 this then combines with another molecule of O2 forming O3 ozone. The ozone absorbs a different spectrum of UV light than the O2 did and sheds its third oxygen molecule to become normal O2 oxygen again. This cycle of ozone creation and destruction absorbs a great deal of UV radiation protecting everyone down on the earth’s surface.

However not all ozone generation is natural or intentional, many electronics such as your computer printer, and certain chemical reactions like when air pollutants that are emitted from sources like cars and power plants encounter sunlight. This is called ground-level ozone by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This Ground-level ozone is usually the type that the EPA is worried about when it comes to air quality. Ozone itself is not very stable and breaks down by itself over time. The big problem with ground level ozone is that it is not contained, constantly being generated, and mixed in with the air we breathe.

Ozone Is Used for Purification

Ozone uses are remarkably diverse. It is used as a bleaching agent by clothing manufactures during jean washing, It is used by food packers to clean soda bottles, wineries to clean grape presses and wine barrels, and even used to clean railway tanker trucks that carry liquid food ingredients.  One of the more interesting uses of ozone is by many municipalities to disinfect drinking water. They prefer ozone to chlorine because ozone does not create the reaction byproducts like chlorine does, which can form organochlorine compounds that remains in water after treatment. Ozone on the other hand just breaks back down into oxygen. Finally, many hospitals around the world use ozone generators as part of their process to sanitize operating rooms after surgery.

Yes, Ozone Can Be Used Safely

If ozone was never safe, how could all of these industries rely on the sanitizing power of ozone?  The answer is simple, Ozone can be used safely. The key to using ozone in a safe and responsible manner is containment. When ozone encounters a cell, there is a natural reaction called an oxidative burst. The cell wall is torn or ruptured, which kills the cell. This is what makes it particularly useful against single celled organisms like bacteria and shows why containment the most important rule of ozone safe use. If we want it only to react with certain things, we need to make sure only those things are exposed to it. In the same way you wouldn’t want to drink bleach, you don’t want to breathe ozone. It’s all about containing and controlling exposure then destroying the ozone when we are done.  One of the great properties of ozone is that it breaks down into regular breathable O2 oxygen by itself, given time.

While harsh liquid cleaners can hang around on a surface, causing problems ozone simply removes itself.

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