May 1998 Magazine
To understand Ozone generators you must first understand what Ozone is and what its effects are. Ozone is a very special kind of oxygen molecule. A molecule is a group of atoms that are electrically connected to each other. Normally oxygen exists as O2. This symbol stands for 2 atoms of oxygen bound (electrically connected) together to form a molecule. This combination of oxygen atoms is stable. In other words O2 tends to stay O2 and not change into something else. When we say we are breathing oxygen we are breathing O2. The air we breathe contains O2 along with many other gases. Ozone is composed of three atoms of oxygen (written as O3) bound together. Ozone is not stable. It is very reactive with other elements (O3 very much wants to become O2). Ozone is described (Encyclopedia Britannica) as an irritating, pale blue gas that is explosive and toxic, even at low concentrations. It is used as a bleaching agent for organic compounds; as a strong germicide to sterilize drinking water as well as to remove objectionable odors and flavors.
As stated above ozone is toxic. In controlled exposure studies (Encyclopedia Britannica ) it reduced the ventilory capability of healthy people in concentrations as low as 0.12 parts per million. Ozone is also toxic to plants at levels of 0.01 to 0.05 parts per million with an exposure time of several hours. Ozone can also cause breathing disorders such as bronchitis. Parts per million is a way of measuring the concentration of a gas. An ozone concentration of 0.01 parts per million means that for every 100 million particles there will be 1 ozone molecule. This is not very much ozone and it is still harmful to plants.
Ozone does exist in the atmosphere. Everyone has heard discussions of the problems with the ozone layer. The ozone layer in the atmosphere exists at a very large distance from the earth. We do not breathe this ozone. The atmospheric ozone shields us from some of the Sun's radiation. Ozone is also generated when an electrical spark passes an atmosphere containing oxygen. This happens when lightning strikes the earth or an electric motor runs (Yes your laser printer generates some ozone). The key thing to remember is the concentrations that you breathe from lightning and electric motors are very low and of a short duration. There is some discussion about the danger of the ozone generated by laser printers but that is another topic.
Ozone generators use an electrical mechanism to generate Ozone gas. Ozone generators will clean the air. Bacteria in the air are neutralized. Ozone reacts with most airborne particles and the particles are attracted to floor and walls. The particles are not in the air for you to breathe but they do build up on your floors and walls. People that claim that Ozone generators will reduce air borne pollutants are correct. The problem of removing the residue that builds up on the floors and walls is ignored.
The problem is the Ozone cleaners are dangerous. Ozone is dangerous to humans and plants even at very low concentrations. The study in Encyclopedia Britannica found that levels as low as 0.12 parts per million have a negative effect on human respiratory systems. None of the ozone cleaner manufactures I found quoted the ozone they generate in parts per million so there is no way to compare their output to "safe" levels. Recent media articles have indicated that at least some Ozone generators do generate dangerous ozone levels. You will read testimonials from Ozone cleaner users who say that the units have changed their lives, asthma suffers can breathe again etc. These are true. Initially the Ozone cleaners would remove all of the air born pollutants making it easier for asthma suffers to breathe. However, the continued exposure to ozone could affect them in a very negative way unless the ozone levels are controlled very carefully. None of the ozone cleaners I have encountered have controls calibrated in parts per million . How do you set a safe level? Remember that very low levels of Ozone have been shown to be harmful.
There is no standard for the level of ozone that is safe for parrots. We do know that the avian respiratory system is much more sensitive than the human system. The corollary is that the "safe" ozone level would be much lower than the safe ozone level required for humans. How low is safe enough? This is a question that does not have an answer. The only safe thing to do is not use Ozone air cleaners.. Standard HEPA air filters are a much better choice. They do not neutralize bacteria. They only remove them from the environment. You must change/clean the filters regularly. However, they do not generate poisonous gases.
Winged Wisdom Note: Bruce Voorhees has owned pets most his life and currently is the proud owner of an Eleanora Cockatoo. Although educated as an electronic engineer, he has become a software engineer, developing robot control software. This is Bruce's second published article.
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