Air purifiers that use ozone present serious health risks that vendors often try to hide. Marketing campaigns have even gone so far as to suggest that ozone-generating purifiers have been approved by the federal government. This is an untrue and dangerous claim. In fact, no agency of the federal government has ever approved these ozone generators for use in occupied spaces.
What is ozone, anyway?
Ozone is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen form the basic oxygen molecule that is necessary for us to breathe. The third oxygen atom can detach from the ozone molecule, and re-attach to molecules of other substances, changing their chemical composition.
Isn’t ozone a good thing?
In its proper place in the stratosphere, ozone provides important protection against the harmful UV radiation of the sun. But, on the ground level, ozone is so dangerous that it’s been classified as an air pollutant by the EPA.
Why is ozone dangerous?
Just as the third molecule of oxygen can interact with organic material outside of the body, it can also interact with substances inside the body. This can cause a lot of problems. Even very small amounts of ozone in the air may result in chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation.
If it’s so dangerous, why would any company sell purifiers that use ozone?
Manufacturers are able to avoid Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval by not making specific medical claims about the devices. In fact, there isn’t really any government oversight over consumer air purifiers (aside from HEPA, which we’ll talk about later), so any claims of “government-approved” that air purifiers make is a red flag.
The truth is, ozone has been shown to be effective in some forms of decontamination. As ozone’s unstable three-oxygen-atom structure breaks down, it peels away electrons from cell walls and destroys the cell’s DNA. This can be useful in disinfecting water and, in some cases, medical tools. Very high concentrations of ozone are also sometimes used to decontaminate unoccupied spaces from specific chemical or biological contaminants or odors. But, using ozone to “clean” air in occupied places is far more harmful than useful.
Also, because most people tend to think of ozone as a positive thing (which it is, in its proper place), marketing strategies have been able to bill ozone-producing purifiers as “pure air” or “healthy air.” Ozone can create a clean smell, similar to rain, which makes consumers feel as though their air is pure and fresh. But the smell is not a reliable indicator of the purifier’s effectiveness.
So, what are the best alternatives?
There are a number of different types of air purifiers that don’t use ozone. Here are some options to consider.
HEPA: HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. In order to meet HEPA standards, a filter must be able to remove 99.97% of particles in the air that are .3 microns or larger. HEPA air purifiers are very effective at trapping airborne particles, but they don’t remove odors, chemicals or gases.
Activated Carbon Technology: Activated carbon filters are made up of highly absorbent molecular-sized pores that capture and hold on to pollutants like chemical emissions, gases, tobacco smoke, and odors. They are especially effective at absorbing formaldehyde, which is found in carpet, wood, and furniture upholstery.
Ionizer Air Purifiers: Ionizing air cleaners work by creating ions – positively or negatively charged molecules. Air goes into the purifier where it passes through an electric field that either adds or takes away an electron from the particles passing through. The technology sounds advanced, however, not only do ionizers not work very well outside of very small spaces, they also produce small amounts of ozone.
Combination HEPA and Activated Carbon: Air purifiers that combine both HEPA filters and activated carbon technology are able to eliminate airborne particles, while also filtering out many types of gases and unpleasant odors. These purifiers provide the most advanced air purifying technology without the harmful effects of ozone.
The Bottom Line…
Whatever air purifier you’re considering, make sure to look past misleading marketing claims and do your research. Understanding the science behind purifiers will ensure you make the right choice. Check out our blog for a more in-depth look at how purifiers work.
An air purifier can make an enormous difference in your health… make sure it’s a good one!