Though ozone is often thought of as something that exists in the upper atmosphere, or as an outdoor air pollutant, ozone pollution can occur in the home. Indoor air pollution from ozone can be very dangerous to people’s health, and many people are unaware of both the dangers of ozone exposure as well as the common sources of indoor ozone. It’s important to be knowledgeable about the primary sources of indoor ozone, as well as the steps you can take to reduce your exposure to ozone.
The Formation Of Ozone
Ozone is only harmful when it is at ground level where people can breathe it in. In the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere), ozone is a beneficial chemical which shields us from the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. The formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere occurs when sunlight hits certain air pollutants. These air pollutants are catalyzed by the sunlight and turn into O3, or ozone.
“Ground level ozone, or tropospheric ozone, is primarily created when emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as nitrogen oxides interact in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight and heat,” says Camfil’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials
. “Volatile organic compounds are dangerous by themselves, and so are nitrogen oxides, but when these two air pollutants are exposed to sunlight they turn into tropospheric ozone.” (1)
Cars, trucks, and other fossil fuel burning devices can emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds, and VOCs can also come from certain consumer products like paints, solvents, and insecticides. Nitrogen oxide is a primary byproduct of the combustion of fossil fuels burned in vehicle engines and in industrial power plants.
The smog created by ozone can infiltrate houses, turning the photochemical byproduct into a hazardous indoor air pollutant. However, this isn’t the only way for indoor air pollution from ozone to occur. Ozone can also be formed in the home by some types of air cleaning products. These products are intended to neutralize harmful indoor air pollutants but can emit ozone by doing so, which is itself harmful.
The Hazards of Air Pollution from Ozone
The hazards of air pollution from ozone include damage to people’s lungs and cardiovascular system. Exposure to ozone can impair lung function, making it more difficult to breathe deeply and lead to the development of respiratory diseases.
“Ozone exposure can easily aggravate and exacerbate already existing lung conditions like emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis,” says Seyffer. “It can increase the likelihood that an asthma attack will happen, and may even contribute to the development of asthma. Ozone exposure also makes lung tissue more vulnerable to infection. It can lead to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the damage it does to the lungs can continue even when the initial symptoms of exposure have disappeared.” (2)
Short-term but intense exposure to ozone is also thought to contribute to the possibility of death from a variety of respiratory illnesses.
The damage caused by ozone comes from the fact that ozone causes the muscles found in the respiratory system to constrict, which traps air in the air pockets, or alveoli, of the lungs. The people who are most vulnerable to ozone exposure include those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, the elderly, children, those who spend long periods of time outdoors, and people with genetic predispositions.
Products that Cause Indoor Air Pollution from Ozone
There are a variety of products that cause indoor air pollution from ozone. These products include but are not limited to certain air purifiers, laundry water treatment appliances, facial steamers, and automated vegetable washers.
One of the most common sources of indoor air pollution from ozone is air purifiers intended to control indoor air pollution.
“Ozone air purifiers are intended to work by altering the charge of particles of air pollution so that the particles are attracted to each other and rendered harmless,” says Seyffer. “However, the high-voltage system used to ionize the air particles also converts some of the oxygen in the air into ozone. Research into these product suggests that they are ineffective in removing indoor air contaminants.” (3)
Any products that emit ozone in the home should be used with care or not used at all. It is difficult to avoid exposure to products that emit ozone because of the close proximity of residents to these ozone-emitting devices.
“The EPA has standards regarding safe levels of ozone exposure, but in reality controlled studies have demonstrated that emissions from some household products exceed recommended safe levels,” says Seyffer. “It can be very difficult to control ozone exposure while using an ozone generator. This is due to the fact that not all ozone air purifiers are made with the same standards, and thus they may be more or less powerful and emit varying degrees of ozone. This makes it difficult to monitor ozone levels to ensure they are below the safety threshold. Air also circulates throughout the home through ventilation systems, spreading ozone to other rooms.” (4)
Stopping Indoor Air Pollution From Ozone
Stopping indoor air pollution from ozone should be done by using safer methods of reducing indoor air pollution, and by remaining informed about which products can create ozone as a byproduct.
If possible, you should avoid using consumer products that emit ozone. Read the manuals of products like air purifiers carefully to see if it might emit ozone. If a product does release ozone, consider using alternative methods of controlling indoor air pollution.
There are three different methods of controlling indoor air pollutants: source control, ventilation, and air cleaning. Source control refers to reducing possible sources of air pollution, like minimizing the use of polluting products. This is accomplished through actions like cleaning regularly to remove dust and moisture, and cooking with methods that minimize smoke.
Air ventilation is also effective, assuming that the area you live in is not heavily polluted. Windows can be opened and ventilation systems can draw in outside air to reduce the concentration of air pollutants indoors. Air cleaning refers to using methods like air filters and gas absorbing materials to remove pollutants out of the air. The use of air filters that include activated carbon is very effective at removing ozone from the air.
Indoor air pollution from ozone can harm you and your family, so it is of the utmost importance to avoid products that release ozone and to reduce concentrations of ozone through source control, ventilation, and air cleaning.
If you need help determining which home products can release ozone, or need to purchase filters to clean your air without ozone air purifiers, contact Camfil as soon as possible. Camfil can help you reduce indoor air pollution from ozone and ensure the health of your family.