Ozone is Nature's Powerful Sanitizer
Ozone has existed in nature since lightning first arced through an oxygenated atmosphere, and has always been easily identified by its unique smell, even in small concentrations. But only since the advent of scientific research and technology has it been identified and understood properly.
Ozone Identified as a Distinct Substance
Ozone was first identified as a distinct chemical substance by the German scientist Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1840. In his experiments with electrolysis and electrical sparking, he recognized a scent as the same odor found after a lightening flash. He named the substance “ozone” from the Greek term for “smell”.
However, Schönbein did not know what the nature of the substance was. From his own research, he noted that the ozone scent was detected as soon as the electrolysis of water started. He executed a number of experiments using a variety of electrolytes with chemicals in solution, and exposed the ozone to other chemicals after it was produced.
He found a number of results that we now understand much better, although at the time he did not find the correct explanations. For example, he noted that the ozone smell was not created when using chemical solutions of ‘halides’. Remarkably, from these kinds of very elementary findings, he suggested that the substance’s odor “must be due to some gaseous substance disengaged (conjointly with oxygen) from the fluid due to the decomposing power of the current.” *
The Synthesis of Ozone
The chemical identity of ozone (O3) was finally identified by Soret in 1865, and the result was confirmed shortly before Schönbein’s death in 1867. Technology has progressed a long way since then, though the basic techniques are the same.
At its most basic, industrial ozone is created by flowing oxygen between a charged anode and cathode pair. The electrical field breaks the oxygen molecule (O2) into two oxygen atoms (O) which instantly form a weak bond with an ordinary oxygen molecule to make ozone (O3). This method is similar to the action of lightning surging through the atmosphere (see the Ozone Technology page for more information about sophisticated modern methods of creating ozone).
Ozone Sanitation in Everyday Life
Most people have benefited from ozone sanitation in more ways than they know. The following historical benchmarks give a flavor of the arc of ozone in helping maintain our quality of life.
In 1906, the city of Nice, France built the first water purification plant to utilize ozone and ozone has been used to purify drinking and municipal waste water ever since.
Safe for mammals and marine life, ozone is used worldwide in zoos and commercial aquariums (see the Special Projects for examples).
Ozone has been purifying bottled water since 1982.
The 1984 Olympic Games competition pools were sanitized with ozone, and most Olympic venues since then have also used ozone.
In 2001, the FDA officially allowed the use of ozone as an antimicrobial direct food additive and ozone can safely be used as a surface disinfectant for food contact and non-food contact equipment surfaces during or after the manufacture of food products.
In the pool and spa industry, ozone has been used for more than 65 years as the most powerful oxidizer that can be safely used in a swimming pool or spa.
Within a short time, the Centers for Disease Control will issue the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), a guideline for improving the safety and efficacy of sanitation for public swimming venues. It identifies ozone as an approved secondary disinfection system that will help to achieve this goal.
*from a paper by Mordecai Rubin in the Bulletin of History of Chemistry, 2001