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Home > Natural Resources > Air Quality Resources, Compliance and Solutions

Ozone air cleaners present health hazard

Ozone air cleaners present a health hazard in the home, according to EPA, FDA, OSHA, and NIOSH research.

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According to the California Air Resources Board, a survey of 2,019 California adults was conducted to determine the extent to which Californians purchased and used indoor air cleaners, specifically models that produce ozone either intentionally or as a by-product, as well as the reasons for their purchase, the frequency and duration of their use, and to determine other factors that may impact public health.

Survey results by Robert H. Lee, Survey Research Center at the University of California Berkeley, show that fourteen percent of California households own an air cleaner. Ten percent of California households own an air cleaner that produces ozone intentionally (often referred to as "ozone generators") or as a by-product: two percent (2%) of California households own an ozone generator that intentionally emits ozone, while eight percent (8%) own an air cleaner that may emit ozone as a by-product. An estimated 828,000 Californians (about 282,000 households) may be intentionally exposed to potentially harmful levels of ozone.

Many more residents may be exposed to lower ozone concentrations from by-product devices. Californians purchase air cleaners primarily for health reasons, and most use their air cleaners continuously every day.

According to the EPA, Ozone generators sold as air cleaners intentionally produce the gas ozone. For almost a century, health professionals have refuted claims that these ozone devices are always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollution.

Manufacturers and vendors of ozone devices often use misleading terms to describe ozone. Terms such as "energized oxygen" or "pure air" suggest that ozone is a healthy kind of oxygen. Ozone is a toxic gas with vastly different chemical and toxicological properties from oxygen. Several federal agencies have established health standards or recommendations to limit human exposure to ozone.

NO agency of the federal government has approved these devices for use in occupied spaces. Because of these claims, and because ozone can cause health problems at high concentrations, several federal government agencies have worked in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to produce a public information document explaining the health risks.

  • When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs
  • Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.
  • Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.
  • Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone.
  • Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects.
Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures.

...so which is worse, indoor air pollution or ozone?

Available scientific evidence shows that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has little potential to remove indoor air contaminants.

  • First, a review of scientific research shows that, for many of the chemicals commonly found in indoor environments, the reaction process with ozone may take months or years
  • Second, for many of the chemicals with which ozone does readily react, the reaction can form a variety of harmful or irritating by-products
  • Third, ozone does not remove particles (e.g., dust and pollen) from the air, including the particles that cause most allergies.

Solutions!

  1. Source Control: Eliminate or control the sources of pollution;
  2. Ventilation: Dilute and exhaust pollutants through outdoor air ventilation, and
  3. Air Cleaning: Remove pollutants through proven air cleaning methods.
Source control is the most effective. Minimize the use of products and materials that cause indoor pollution, employ good hygiene practices to minimize biological contaminants (including the control of humidity and moisture, and occasional cleaning and disinfection of wet or moist surfaces), and use good housekeeping practices to control particles.

Outdoor air ventilation is also effective. Methods include use of an exhaust fan close to the source of contaminants, increasing outdoor air flows in mechanical ventilation systems, and opening windows, especially when pollutant sources are in use.

Air cleaning is not generally regarded as sufficient in itself, but is sometimes used to supplement source control and ventilation. Air filters, electronic particle air cleaners and ionizers can be used to remove airborne particles, and gas adsorbing material used to remove gaseous contaminants when source control and ventilation are inadequate.

For more complete information about the EPA's research about ozone air cleaners, check out the EPA website that lists resources and more details.

Hotlines and Resources from EPA about indoor air quality such as asthma, smoke-free homes, and radon.

California Indoor Air Quality Program Infosheets and links offers information on mold, indoor ozone, air cleaners, healthy homes, healthy schools, asbestos, radon, environmental tobacco smoke and VOCs. The California Indoor Air Quality Program conducts research and studies relating to the causes, effects and prevention of indoor pollution in California.

The Hotline provides answers:

Call 510-620-2874

The Indoor Air Quality Assistance Hotline offers guidance and information about indoor air quality issues. Please leave your name and phone number, or an email address, and a brief message with a short description of your question. The calls are answered as staff is available. Your call will be returned.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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