Environmental Pollution

Fresh Air Curative Effect Related to Ions and Traces of Ozone
© Copyright 1996 by Thomas Valone, M.A., P.E.
(Explore! for the Professional journal Issue: Volume 7, Number 1)

About the Author

Thomas Valone is a licensed professional engineer and physicist. He is also a former college professor who is the author of two books and over 100 articles on popular science topics.


Ions and trace amounts of ozone have been found to be the two missing ingredients of typical indoor air. This article traces the history of ion and ozone research, including medical findings. Modern home and office buildings are often airtight with windows that do not open. As indoor pollutants build up, sick building syndrome is on the rise. A few parts per billion of ozone, along with a healthy dose of negative ions, sanitizes, deodorizes, and revitalizes the air. This synergistic combination has been found to produce a wide range of health benefits, which are described in this article.

Atmospheric Electricity

Not until 1752 was the secret of atmospheric electricity discovered -- when Ben Franklin in the U.S. and d'Alibard, a French investigator, working independently, proved that lightning occurs when thunder clouds discharge electricity. Another form of atmospheric electricity, more subtle than celestial phenomena, was discovered by Lemonnier, who found that an iron wire attached from the top of a building to the bottom produced sparks at times. It even vigorously attracted dust particles in fine weather, indicating that it was electrified, indicating the electricity came from the air.

Air Ions

What was this electricity that these early pioneers were experiencing? Not until the latter part of the 19th century did Elster and Geitel in Germany and J.J. Thomson of England discover ions in the air. "Ion" comes from the Greek for "traveler". The term was first used to describe charged atoms moving in solution. For example, when table salt is dissolved in water, the sodium chloride splits into sodium ions and chlorine ions, which will migrate to negative and positive electrodes respectively.

Air ions are somewhat different from ions in solution. Energy is needed for their formation -- even the shearing of water droplets in a waterfall supplies enough energy to make the fine spray carry a considerable load of small negative air ions while the heavier positive ions stay in the tumbling water. Ion concentrations have been measured at spas located near waterfalls to be as high as 35,000 per cubic centimeter of air.

Urban Air Is Ion Depleted

However, modern urban environments present a different kind of air quality: ion depletion.

Very few human activities add small ions to the air while many of them lead to ion loss.Industrial pollutants, traffic-engendered smog, and the ducts of ventilation systems all strip ions from the air.

As a result, we suffer not only the direct toxic effect of pollutants we generate, but also long continued exposure to air in which the normal total ion concentration of about 2,000-3,000 per cubic centimeter (as found in the relatively clean air of open country) is reduced to barely detectable levels. Headache, somnolence, loss of attention, and general discomfort are just some of the initial reactions to air ion depletion.

Treatment of Disease With Ions

As noted in the book, The Ion Effect, by Fred Soyka (Ballantine Books, 1991), electronic negative ion generators have been used for the treatment of migraines, bedsores, allergies, asthma, catarrh, hay fever, eczema, burns, emphysema, and even as a substitute for tranquilizers. It was discovered that negative ions lower serotonin in the body, and this explains why people tend to feel more alert, stable, and energized in their presence. Dr. Kreuger found that bacteria, staphylococci, and fungi growth is halted in the presence of negative ions, which explains the healing side effect. Dr. I. Kornblueh mounted experiments at the Northeastern Hospital, University of Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital, and at the Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia where he was able to report that 63% of patients suffering from hay fever or bronchial asthma "have experienced partial or total relief" from negative ion therapy.

Ion and Ozone Synergy

Russian studies have also pointed and indicated that "atmospheric ozone and ions are the vehicles of freshness". In studies at the Academy of Medical Sciences, Drs. Gubernskii and Dmitriev found that 0.005 ppm (parts-per-million) to 0.02 ppm of ozone added to normal deozonated indoor air increased animals' resistance to the cold, to infection, to toxic substances, and to oxygen deprivation. A general increase in the immune "biological potential" and the vital capacity of the lungs was reported.

Also produced during a thunderstorm, three atoms of oxygen combine in a temporarily stable molecule called ozone. As soon as ozone encounters almost anything, including another ozone molecule, it breaks apart and oxidizes the substance. This includes odor-causing chemical gases, bacterial and microbial cells, and even dust particles.

Present in fresh country and mountain air in the average concentration of 0.03 ppm, atmospheric ozone is what gave your mother's clothes on the line that fresh smell.

Not surprisingly, nature uses ozone to clean the air, even in polluted cities like Los Angeles and Mexico City, where ultraviolet light in the presence of "photochemical smog" produces enough ozone to break down the automobile hydrocarbons in the air. Where there is a lot of auto exhaust and sunlight, nature creates a lot of ozone to oxidize the poisons.

Germ Killer

Ozone is a disinfectant. Twin City Testing Labs in Minnesota demonstrated a steady decline in 5 strains of infectious microorganisms in 4 hours with as little as .05 ppm of ozone. These "bioaerosols", often incubating in dirty air ducts, could be projected to be completely eliminated in 24 hours from the Twin City Labs test data. It has been argued that the same disinfecting action takes place in the human sinus cavities (where invading microbes first take hold) as well as further down the respiratory tract, while breathing fresh mountain air containing trace amounts of ozone.

If we go this far, it is also interesting to note that ozone is virucidal (East West magazine, Sept. 1989). Therefore, the question about its effect on the incidence of the common cold can be raised. East West describes virus-killing medical techniques that are being researched for a wide range of diseases.

Office Buildings Cause Disease

The most detailed account of the beneficial effects of trace amounts of ozone on the respiratory system comes from Drs. Gurbernskii and Dmitriev who report "that conditioned air causes employees working in office buildings to complain of headaches, weakness, a general poor feeling, oxygen deprivation, and leads to increased illness, rapid fatigue, and a reduction of the capacity to work."

They also note that "in addition, the number of colds, rheumatism, severe catarrh, of the upper breathing passages, cardio-vascular disorders significantly increased" with conditioned air even in the absence of indoor air pollution.

Ozone-Ion Complex Fights Sick Building Syndrome

Tests were done with less than .01 ppm of ozone reveal that "the levels of oxygen in the blood increase relatively quickly and remain at a high level for the duration of the experiment." They conclude by stating, "atmospheric ozone has a positive effect on animals and people. It is important to note its positive effect on the breathing system, blood composition, arterial pressure, immune system, general feeling of well-being, and mental and physical work capability." They note further that "the ozone-ion complex is a necessary component of fresh air that gives it a curative effect."

If that isn't enough, we find that in the journal Priroda (1976, No. 9, p.26), the above researchers report that, with tests of 0.005 to 0.02 ppm of ozone for 2-5 months, "an increase in the resistance to the cold, to the presence of toxic substances, and to anemia was discovered." In addition, they discovered an increase in hemoglobin and quantity of red blood corpuscles as well. The same article refers to the decrease in complaints of stuffiness (3.8 times less complaints) and 44% more positive remarks for an average of 0.0075 ppm (less than 0.01 ppm) of ozone.

Artificially Add Ions and Ozone

The researchers conclude, "After analyzing the composition of air in the internal environment of a person's dwelling in all sorts of buildings, it is possible to conclude that the optimum situation is a set of complex factors: ozone and ionized regime, which, evidently, in the future will be necessary to artificially introduce into air conditioning systems. Without this favorable effect the air will be lacking."

Precisely reproducing quantities of ozone and ions found in fresh air is the best answer to revitalizing the home and office since people spend on the average 90% of their time indoors, often with windows that are sealed shut.

Solution to hospital infections could be
in the air

Date Issued: 01/11/03

For more information, contact:

Dr. Clive Beggs, Aerobiological Research Group, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, England

Tel: 0113 343 2269/ 2303

Jane Reck, EPSRC Press Officer, Tel: 01793 444312

A breakthrough in the fight against infections acquired in hospital could be achieved thanks to pioneering new research.

The project is investigating the use of ionisers to eradicate airborne infections in hospitals - a technique that could deliver major health benefits and financial savings.

Starting in December, the new 3-year initiative will be carried out by engineers at the University of Leeds with funding from the Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Infections originating in hospital are a serious and widespread problem, affecting around 10% of patients during their stay. There is increasing evidence that up to 20% of these infections are transmitted by an airborne route - at a cost of £100-200 million a year in England alone.

The project will build on a recent successful study at St James's University Hospital in Leeds. This found that using ionisers to negatively charge air particles in an intensive care unit prevented all infections caused by the Acinetobacter pathogen. Immune to nearly all currently available antibiotics, Acinetobacter infections are a growing problem in hospitals and can be fatal in some groups of patients.

In the new project, the same team will set out to understand the science behind this success and provide a firm basis for future use of the technique. They will focus on the biological and physical processes associated with negative air ionisation and airborne transmission of infection, and establish guidelines for the effective use of ionisers in hospital buildings.

Much of the research will be carried out in the University's state-of-the-art aerobiological test facility, which was part funded by EPSRC. The facility incorporates a 32m 3 climatic chamber where temperature, humidity and ventilation rate can be varied and controlled. The chamber enables researchers to mimic various clinical environments and perform a wide range of experiments involving aerosols doped with micro-organisms.

The project team is being led by Dr Clive Beggs of the University of Leeds' Aerobiological Research Group. Dr Beggs says: "Negative air ionisation could have a dramatic impact on a problem that has been attracting increasing publicity and causing growing concern".

Notes for Editors:

The research initiative, "The Use of Small Negative Air Ions to Disinfect Acinetobacter SPP and Other Airborne Pathogens in Hospital Buildings", will receive EPSRC funding of over £280,000.

The Aerobiological Research Group is a leader in the investigation of the behaviour of airborne micro-organisms and the use of engineering measures to control infection.

The previous study undertaken at St James's University Hospital was funded by NHS Estates.

A pathogen is a microbe that causes disease.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and from mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements in everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.