Monday, August 20, 2012

Terpenes + Ozone = Formaldehyde
Part 2: Ozone

In part 1 we introduced you to Terpenes, a class of chemicals found in pine, lemon and orange oils. Terpenes are found in many household cleaners and air fresheners and are not dangerous on their own, but when mixed with ozone in the air will produce toxic compounds.

Why should we worry about Terpenes if they require ozone to produce toxic compounds? Two reasons. Ozone Generators are sold as home air cleaners and indoor ozone levels are not regulated.
Ozone, a lung irritant, is all around us and many of the electronic products we use produce it as a byproduct like TV’s and computers. Manufacturers have even marketed ozone producing devices as air purifiers. Many are labeled ionic or electro-static and usually don’t include a filter or fan. The EPA has written a paper specifically addressing the problem of ozone generators and in-door environments and so has the California EPA Air Resources Board
“Ozone generators use UV light or an electrical discharge to intentionally produce ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant that can cause adverse health effects. At concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has little effect in removing most indoor air contaminants. Thus, ozone generators are not always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollutants.”
(Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home.
US EPA. May 2008.)
Why would the EPA say that ozone generators are not always safe?

Ozone generators are not regulated by any government agency and can produce varying levels of ozone depending on factors like room size, ventilation and power setting. Indoor ozone is not regulated as a pollutant because under normal circumstances it doesn’t accumulate to the point of becoming a health hazard.
“Studies have shown that ozone generators can produce indoor ozone levels several times the state outdoor health standard...equal to, or worse than, a first stage smog alert. It is clear that the ozone concentrations produced by these devices can easily exceed health-protective standards.”
(Fact Sheet: Beware of Ozone-generating Indoor “Air Purifiers”.
California Air Resources Board. March, 2006.)
We recently heard a rumor that hospitals use ozone to clean the air which is why they smell so clean. After a couple minutes searching online we found a few articles detailing how ozone has a cleansing effect on air quality at exceptionally high levels which is why it is used in hospital rooms around the world to sterilize the air. Manufacturers of ozone generators use that fact as marketing to sell their products. Sounds great but they don’t tell you that the levels of ozone that are needed to clean the air is so high it is toxic to humans. This is the reason rooms are emptied between patients, sealed air tight and filled with ozone for a period of time before all the air is exchanged and reoccupied. Since the development of this technology new reports have said that ozone may be ineffective at killing biological organisms that are attached to textiles and needs more research. The air may be clean but the contents of the room may not be any more clean than when they last wiped them down or washed them.

In part 1 we mentioned that terpenes can produce some nasty chemicals when exposed to ozone. Now we know that ozone is all around us and can be artificially elevated in the home by using ozone generators. In part 3 we will explain how ozone breaks down terpenes in the air into formaldehyde.

Part 3: Making Formaldehyde

1.  Common household cleaners and air fresheners may lead to health risks.
News Medical. May 24, 2006.
2.  Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home.
US EPA. May 2008.
3. Fact Sheet: Beware of Ozone-generating Indoor “Air Purifiers”.
California Air Resources Board. March, 2006.

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