Ozone (O3) is substance consisting of three oxygen atoms per molecule. At standard temperature and pressure, this is a blue gas. Ozone forms a dark blue liquid, below -112 C, and a dark blue solid, below -193 C. Ozone is notable for its ability to absorb UV-B radiation. Ozone is created, naturally, within the ozone layer. Ozone is "depleted" by 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.

The ozone molecule is also unstable and 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 is a highly corrosive and is a poisonous substance and a common pollutant. It has a sharp, pungent odour. 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 electrical equipment generates levels of ozone that a human can easily smell; this is especially true if there is a spark gap or a very high voltage.

Ozone, at carefully controlled levels, is used in medicine for healing, and has broad applications as a therapy. In Germany, MDs use ozone for many conditions, and it is a common and accepted treatment. Ozone can be applied as a body therapy in many ways, including injection, transdermal application, insufflation (leaking the gas into the body), and breathing (bubbled through oil). Ozone use and research are also on-going in Cuba and the USSR.

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. Ozone has been found to convert cholesteral in the blood stream to plaque (which causes hardening and narrowing of arteries). Ozone has been studied extensively, and found to be carcinogenic to some animals (and not others), and a mutagen to some bacteria. On the plus side, ozone is produced by white blood cells and the roots of marigolds to assist in fighting attacks on foreign bodies.

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.

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.

Ozone was discovered by Christian Friedrich Schonbein in 1840.


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