The same chemical properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic material outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic material that makes up the body, and potentially cause harmful health consequences. 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. People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone. 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 (US EPA, 1996a, 1996b).(712) 439-6880
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. These exposure limits are summarized here:
|Health Effects||Risk Factors||Health Standards*|
|Potential risk of experiencing:|
|Decreases in lung function||Factors expected to increase risk and severity of health effects are:||The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires ozone output of indoor medical devices to be no more than 0.05 ppm.|
|Aggravation of asthma||Increase in ozone air concentration||The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that workers not be exposed to an average concentration of more than 0.10 ppm for 8 hours.|
|Throat irritation and cough||Greater duration of exposure for some health effects||The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an upper limit of 0.10 ppm, not to be exceeded at any time.|
|Chest pain and shortness of breath||Activities that raise the breathing rate (e.g., exercise)||EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone is a maximum 8 hour average outdoor concentration of -0.08 ppm (see: the Clean Air Act)|
|Inflammation of lung tissue||Certain pre-existing lung diseases (e.g., asthma)|
|Higher susceptibility to respiratory infection|
* ppm = parts per million
Is there such a thing as good ozone and bad ozone? The phrase "good up high - bad nearby" has been used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the distinction between ozone in the upper and lower atmosphere. Ozone in the upper atmosphere - referred to as stratospheric ozone - helps filter out damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Though ozone in the stratosphere is protective, ozone in the atmosphere - which is the air we breathe - can be harmful to the respiratory system. Harmful levels of ozone can be produced by the interaction of sunlight with certain chemicals emitted to the environment (e.g., automobile emissions and chemical emissions of industrial plants). These harmful concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere are often accompanied by high concentrations of other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, fine particles, and hydrocarbons. Whether pure or mixed with other chemicals, ozone can be harmful to health.
Last Updated: April 4, 2012
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