Ozone Basics

What Is Ozone Anyways?

Ozone, or O3, is simply a supercharged form of oxygen. We refer to the regular oxygen molecule that we breathe as O2. Ozone is essentially O2 with an extra oxygen atom attached. Thus it carries the O3 designation. Oxygen is regularly transformed into ozone through forces such as lightning, and also ultra-violet (UV) light from the sun striking the atmosphere of the earth. Nature has been creating O3 for millions of years as a natural sanitizer. After a short period of time the O3 molecule is designed to revert back to O2, regular oxygen, leaving no residue.

Today, ozone is intentionally produced by man for a variety of purification purposes. It is created by corona discharge as an electrical current is sent to a dielectric material such as a ceramic plate, which splits the O2 molecule creating O3. Ozone can also be created using a UV lamp that emits light in a certain spectrum in order to split the O2 molecule. The main use of ozone is for cleaning and disinfecting.

Ozone is injected in nearly all bottled waters and is widely used in Europe for treating municipal water supplies. It is a great alternative to chlorine for water purification, although more expensive, because it leaves no taste or chemical residue. Sewage and other waste are sometimes treated with ozone because it leaves no residue. O3 is also used for indoor air treatment but care must be taken so that is both safe and effective.

The typical way O3 is used commercially for air treatment is by generating ozone in an unoccupied space. For example, if a hotel wants to change a smoking room to a non-smoking room, they often use a commercial ozone generator to pull odors out of the carpet, drapes, bedding, etc. Smoke and fire damage restoration service companies also use O3 to remove residual odors. 

The FDA has approved O3 for treatment of air and water in food processing plants because it reduces microorganism counts without impacting the flavor. Flood and water damage restoration companies sometimes treat air with O3 at high levels in unoccupied spaces to get rid of musty smells as well as mold and mildew.  Restaurants, bars, casinos, cruise ships, rental apartments, schools, offices, time shares and many other locations are beginning to treat their facilities with ozone during the off hours to get rid of odors and keep the property smelling fresh and clean.

The reason that ozone is able to reduce strong odors is because it goes after pollutants at the source. O3 is a very active form of oxygen that will naturally circulate throughout the room oxidizing odors on surfaces. Ozone can also follow the same path that vapors took when they entered soft materials and oxidize many of those embedded odors. It can help accelerate the dissipation of chemicals from new carpet, furniture and paint as well.  There are numerous other applications.

The general public learns about ozone in two different ways. The first is the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere that helps to reduce the amount of ultra-violet light that strikes the earth, keeping our planet cooler. This natural layer of O3 has gradually been depleted as a result of specific pollutants such as aerosols and the older refrigerant gases.

Since life began, nature has created ozone by sunlight striking gases emitted from decaying matter as a way to keep the earth fresh and clean. This is nature’s response to pollution in the air. When the exhaust emissions are high, the O3 levels become high as a response to the excessive pollutants that are emitted, especially during summer. The ozone levels generally rise during the day in response to the greater amount of sunshine and go back down at night as the O3 breaks down to O2. Ongoing exposure to high levels of ozone at ground level can cause respiratory irritation, especially when combined with particulate and the many other gases emitted from burning fuels.

Without O3 and UV light the earth would be a very smelly place with mold, mildew and viruses running rampant. These natural sanitizers work together and are designed to keep the outdoors fresh, clean and healthy. Normally, however, there is very little ozone or UV light that gets into our indoor spaces where we spend nearly all of our time. This is because the buildings where we live and work are designed to shut out the natural elements. As a result, organic matter, moisture, chemicals, microorganisms and other elements combine to generate unhealthy indoor odors.

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