Ozone (O3), also called trioxygen, is a highly reactive molecule made of three oxygen atoms. Oxygen (O) cannot exist for long as a single atom, and it immediately searches for other atoms or molecules to bond with. It is especially attracted to other single oxygen atoms to create O2, the form we can breathe. In energetic situations like lightning strikes, three oxygens come together to create a loosely combined molecule of O3. It is because of these weak bonds that O3 is so highly reactive. Thus, it is a powerful oxidant. You may have heard of antioxidants in food? They grab onto free radicals to stop them pummeling your DNA. What do antioxidants do then? They buffer your organic molecules against substances like ozone.
This instability is precisely what makes ozone a highly effective disinfectant. It bombards the outer lining of microbes, literally battering them to death. This is true of bacteria, mold, spores, fungi, protozoa and viruses. It is known to be nearly 100 percent effective, and in 1991 The Safe Drinking Water Act confirmed that ozone is effective against hazardous pathogens and chlorine resistant pathogens like Giardia and Cryptosporidium in water. Not only does ozone perforate the outer surfaces of microbes, it also bombards enzymes, proteins, DNA and RNA. It is effective, and ozone is also fast. Against viruses, it literally reshapes the proteins of their envelope. Ozone erodes them, making it impossible for the virus to attach to cells, which means the virus cannot enter the cell and hijack its replication process.
Although this is long established and widely known, it does not mean that O3 products on the market are safe or effective for personal therapeutic purposes. This is especially true of products that are not tested and approved for disinfecting standards. Also, although ozone’s corrosive properties are highly effective against pathogens, it is also highly effective against you.
Before you rush to buy O3 generators that purport to clean the air, water, food or surfaces in your home or office, consider that the concentration required to do that is also powerful enough to damage your lungs. Given that COVID-19 is a respiratory ailment, that is very precisely what you do not want to do. Do not take it upon yourself to use ozone products of any kind without advice from a physician.
You are not likely to get this advice, because in April 2016, the Federal Food and Drug Administration prohibited all medical uses of O3, stating in Title 21 section 801.415 that “Ozone is a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive or preventive therapy. In order for ozone to be effective as a germicide, it must be present in a concentration far greater than that which can be safely tolerated by man and animals.” See the full text here: bit.ly/2wwmBP0.
As further warning to you against buying ozone air purifiers, here is a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website dedicated specifically to products that claim to neutralize indoor air pollution: “Some vendors suggest that these devices have been approved by the federal government for use in occupied spaces. To the contrary, 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 this public information document.” (Note their use of capitalization and bolding on the word “no.”) You can see the full text here: bit.ly/3a3t3uB.
So, then how is this highly effective disinfectant used? It is commonly used at water processing and treatment facilities. Water that is exposed to high levels of O3 is cleansed of a huge variety of pathogens, and it can be done with relative economy. It is not as inexpensive as chlorine, but is more effective. Chlorine has to penetrate the insides of microorganisms by way of diffusion, which is slower and can be prevented by pathogens that have chlorine resistant membranes. Also, chlorine remains in water far longer. Ozone is highly reactive, so it leaves water very quickly, leaving no residue behind.
Ozone has been shown in multiple studies to be highly effective against the SARS coronavirus, which is closely related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. However, it should not be assumed that it is necessarily effective against the novel virus. So, if O3 is so effective at eliminating so many pathogens, why is it not more readily available to consumers?
In short, because ozone is dangerous. Businesses that sell devices that generate O3 make claims about it that are in and of themselves true: Yes, ozone destroys SARS, MRSA, E. coli, anthrax and hundreds of other dangerous microbes. However, these applications require professional training and industrialized equipment to be safe and effective. Products sold for personal use in homes or spas do not generate sufficient ozone to be disinfecting, and if they did, people and pets would sickened or killed by them.
In summary, the application of O3 is a process requiring trained professionals using industrialized equipment. Although highly effective as a disinfectant, it is not safe for unsupervised personal use. Where ozone has been used medically to successfully kill infections, it has also caused dangerous side effects that negate the effective current medical applications.