Ozone generation

Dear Ed,
We are considering using an ozone generator to get rid of the smell in our basement garden. However, I’ve been told that they are not good to be around. How bad are they? Can I use one in the room next to me or in the basement if I live upstairs?

Bionic Tuff Puffers,
Seattle, WA

For small gardens of only one or two lights you may not need to use an ozone generator to eliminate the smell. An air ionizer, or negative ion generator, may fit the bill. Ionizers add extra electrons to oxygen molecules. These ions float around in the air until they come in contact with a molecule which is positively charged because it is missing an electron, such as an odor molecule. The electron jumps over to the positively charged molecule. The molecule, now neutralized, loses its odor, no longer floats, and precipitates out of the air. Negative ions are considered healthful and are generated naturally by splashing water, such as crashing waves and waterfalls. Tests in the early 1970’s indicated that ion enriched air increased contentment and learning in humans.

Most ozone generators use a UV light to convert oxygen (O) to ozone (O3). Oxygen, like all gasses, floats around as a molecule consisting of two oxygen atoms (O2). The energy of the light causes the O to form larger molecules of three atoms. These molecules are not stable and one of the atoms is ready to jump from the molecule and combine with a positively charged molecule, which is missing an electron. When the atom combines with the molecule it oxidizes it, just as happens in a fire. The molecule is neutralized, loses its odor and precipitates.

Ozone does not have the benign reputation of negative ions. Although low levels of ozone can be used therapeutically, high atmospheric levels are associated with lung problems and other ailments. That being said, the practical experience of being around ozone-enriched environments is not bad for several reasons.

The first is that the neither negative ion generators nor ozone generators should be placed within the grow room. The neutralizing effect of the reactive molecules eliminates most of the plants’ odor, leaving the bud with impaired taste. Instead, the de-odorizers should be placed in the ventilation to outdoors, or in a space or spaces adjacent to the growing space, so that any odor which escapes the area is neutralized. If the space around the growing area is mostly unused, a raised ozone count will have no effect on health. While I have noticed no health affects upon people who do spend time in ozonated rooms, I prefer to take a cautious attitude about ozone’s health effects. Here are some guidelines:

1.) Ozone generators should not be placed where people spend long periods of time.

2.) If the ozone generator has a control to regulate production, keep it at the lowest amount which eliminates the odor.

3.) If you are to work in a space which is usually ozonated, shut the ozonator off an hour before you enter.

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