Ozone (O3) is an allotrope of oxygen, the molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms instead of the usual two.
At standard temperature and pressure ozone is a blue gas. Ozone forms a dark blue liquid, below -112 °C, and a dark blue solid, below -193 °C. Ozone is a powerful oxidizing agent, and is unstable, decaying to ordinary oxygen through the reaction:
2O3 → 3O2
Ozone is a highly corrosive poisonous substance and a common pollutant. It has a sharp, pungent odor. It is present in low concentrations throughout the Earth's atmosphere. It is also formed from O2 by electrical discharges, e.g., lightning, and by action of high energy electromagnetic radiation.
Some kinds of electrical equipment generate levels of ozone that a human can easily smell. This is especially true of devices using high voltage, such as television sets and photocopiers. Electric motors using brushes can generate ozone from repeated sparking inside the unit. Large motors, such as those used by elevators or hydraulic pumps, will generate more ozone than smaller motors.
The highest levels of ozone in the atmosphere are in the stratosphere, in a region also known as the ozone layer. Here it filters out much ultraviolet light from the Sun that would be harmful to most forms of life. The standard way to express ozone amounts in the atmosphere is by using Dobson units. Ozone used in industry is measured in ppm (OSHA exposure limits for example), and percent weight.
Ozone was discovered by Christian Friedrich Schonbein in 1840.
Ozone is notable for its ability to absorb UV-B radiation. Ozone is created naturally within the ozone layer. Ozone depletion and ozone holes occur because of chlorofluorocarbons and other upper atmospheric contaminants.
Ozone in the earth's atmosphere is generally created by ultraviolet light which breaks apart O2 molecules, creating atomic oxygen. The atomic oxygen then combines with an unbroken molecule, to create O3. Sometimes the individual oxygen atoms will combine with N2 to create a nitrogen oxide; which, when affected by visible light, may create ozone.
When ultraviolet light hits ozone it splits into a molecule of O2 and an atom of atomic oxygen, a continuing process called the ozone-oxygen cycle. This cycle can be disrupted by the presence of atomic chlorine, fluorine or bromine in the atmosphere; these elements are found in certain stable compounds, especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which may find their way to the stratosphere and there be liberated by the action of ultraviolet light on them. The NOx cycle for the formation of ozone can also be broken by the presence of atmospheric water, reducing NOx to a more stable form.
Ozone as a pollutant
See Tropospheric Ozone.
Use in industry
Ozone can be used for bleaching substances and for killing bacteria. Many municipal drinking water systems kill bacteria with ozone instead of the more common chlorine. Ozone does not form organochlorine compounds, but it also does not remain in the water after treatment, so some systems introduce a small amount of chlorine to prevent bacterial growth in the pipes.
Industrially, ozone is used to:
- disinfect water before it is bottled,
- chemically attack contaminants in water (iron, arsenic, hydrogen sulfide, nitrites, and complex organics lumped together as "color"),
- provide an aid to flocculation (a process of agglomeration of molecules, which aids in filtration... this is where the iron and arsenic get removed),
- clean and bleach fabrics (the latter use is patented),
- assist in processing plastics to allow adhesion of inks,
- age rubber samples to determine the useful life of a batch of rubber.
Use in medicine
Ozone, along with hypochlorite ions, is naturally produced by white blood cells and the roots of marigolds as a means of destroying foreign bodies. When ozone breaks down it gives rise to oxygen free radicals, which are highly reactive and damage or destroy most organic molecules.
Ozone has a number of medical uses. It can be used to affect the body's antioxidant-prooxidant balance, since the body usually reacts to its presence by producing antioxidant enzymes.
Ozone therapy has blossomed into a thriving field of alternative medicine, and there are a host of claimed applications above and beyond what has actually been verified by studies. Ozone treatments are dangerous, however, since ozone is highly corrosive.
In the USA ozone therapy is illegal, as the FDA has not approved its use on humans. At least one death has been attributed to application of ozone through insufflation in the USA. "Air cleaners" which produce "activated oxygen", i.e. ozone, are often sold in the US nonetheless.
Ozone has been found to convert cholesterol in the blood stream to plaque (which causes hardening and narrowing of arteries). This cholesterol product has also been implicated in Alzheimer's disease, suggesting a link between the inflammatory response associated with head injury and Alzheimer's.
Ozone has been studied extensively, and found to be carcinogenic to some animals (and not others), and a mutagen to some bacteria.
- NASA's Earth Observatory article on Ozone http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/Ozone/ozone.html
Last updated: 02-02-2005 07:20:04