It’s not so long ago that the word “ozone” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue as the global conversation was dominated by the destruction of the ozone layer and global warming. Since the shift to talk about climate change, ozone has fallen out of the conversation though it’s still as important as ever. But what is ozone and is it a fire risk?
Ozone is a form of oxygen. Oxygen is not flammable, though it acts as an oxidizer and can intensify fires. There is more oxygen in an ozone molecule than there is in a standard oxygen molecule, and this can mean it burns even more intensely than standard oxygen.
Let’s look at the difference between ozone and regular oxygen and how that changes the effect it has on heat and fire. Take a look.
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Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
What Is Ozone?
Ozone is a name used for “tri-oxygen” which is 3 oxygen atoms that make up a single molecule, unlike the standard form of oxygen in nature, “di-oxygen” which is 2 oxygen atoms bonded together.
Unlike dioxygen, ozone is blue in color, and it is far, far less stable and most of the time, it breaks down in the atmosphere and produces di-oxygen.
It is formed, naturally, by a reaction of ordinary oxygen gas and ultraviolet light and electrical reactions (such as lightning) and it is found in very small quantities in the furthest layer of the atmosphere in what’s known as the “ozone layer”.
The ozone layer is very important for life on earth, without it, we’d all die of radiation poisoning from solar radiation.
It is also produced on an industrial scale for use as a powerful oxidizing agent in chemical reactions but it’s worth noting that this useful property can also make ozone dangerous to living creatures.
Also read: Is Nitrous Oxide Flammable? Yes and No…
Is Ozone Flammable?
No. Ozone, by definition, cannot be flammable.
For a substance to be flammable, it needs to burn. It needs to be a fuel and not an oxidizer in the fire reaction.
Things burn with heat and oxygen.
As ozone is oxygen, it won’t react with oxygen and thus, it can’t burn and can’t be flammable.
Is It Still a Fire Hazard?
Yes, Ozone is a fire hazard.
That might sound counterintuitive, after all, how can something that won’t burn be a fire hazard?
However, while it does not burn, it does make other things burn, because it’s oxygen and if you set fire to something flammable in the presence of ozone, it will burn very well, indeed.
It acts as an oxidizer, the same as regular oxygen, which is one of the necessary components (along with fuel, heat, and chemical chain reaction) to have a fire.
Does It Burn More Than Oxygen?
Ozone doesn’t burn but it reacts substantially more than ordinary oxygen when in combination with something that is burning.
That’s because it is less stable than ordinary oxygen and brings an extra oxygen atom to the party when compared to oxygen gas.
Also read: Is Oxygen (O2) Flammable? Actually No…
Can It Cause an Explosion?
The chemistry is quite complicated here, but ozone has a particular reaction with a group of chemicals called “non-saturated organic compounds” in which the end product tends to be chemicals known as “ozonides”.
Ozonides are extremely unstable, and they decompose easily, and when they do, they create a potentially explosive mix.
In addition to this, ozone makes fires burn harder and hotter than they do in ordinary oxygen, and this can help a fire reach a temperature at which it causes other things to explode (such as gas canisters, for example) more easily.
Is Ozone Harmful To Electronics?
Ozone is a corrosive chemical, and it can easily shed that extra oxygen atom which reacts easily with anything that it comes into contact with.
In the case of electronics, many of the parts used in electronics contain substances that easily react with oxygen and thus, exposure to ozone can easily damage electronics unless they have been specifically designed to work in ozone-rich environments.
Does Electricity Create Ozone?
Electricity can be used to create ozone, in fact, this is the principle of ozone-generating machines.
If you get a high enough voltage and a few other conditions lined up, the electricity will pass through the air, and this causes it to ionize oxygen (that is split the molecules into two separate atoms each with an ionic charge) and these can then react with other oxygen molecules to form ozone.
This reaction is called a “corona discharge” and you will definitely know if it’s taking place, the electricity gives off a sound of crackling and you should also be able to observe a plasma forming in the air (it’s visible to the naked eye).
Is It Safe To Be In a Room With An Ozone Machine?
As we’ve already noted, ozone is a very reactive chemical.
In addition to reacting with electronics, it also reacts with biological materials, that includes human beings.
It can cause very serious problems with the respiratory system, in particular, and that means it’s a very bad idea to be in the same room as an ozone machine that is in operation.
Brief exposure to ozone is unlikely to cause you any lasting problems but longer exposure can cause permanent damage and you definitely don’t want that.
This video talks more about the risks and how to be safe with an ozone machine:
Can It Kill You?
In theory, ozone is violently reactive enough that it could kill you.
But in reality, unless you work in the chemical industry or are foolish enough to spend a lot of time around an ozone-producing machine for fun, you’re unlikely to be exposed to enough ozone for this to happen.
How Can You Tell If You Are Being Affected By Ozone?
That doesn’t mean that you’re completely safe around ozone and problems can occur if you use an ozone machine at home to clean the air and symptoms of ozone poisoning include:
- Reduced lung function – this is likely to result in shortness of breath earlier in strenuous activity than normal
- Aggravation of any asthma symptoms you have
- Irritation to the throat and nose
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Lung inflammation
- More regular occurrence of respiratory infections
If you have any of these symptoms and suspect it is a result of exposure to ozone, then you should talk to a medical professional as soon as possible.
How Many PPM of Ozone Is Dangerous?
The recommended level of ozone is 0.1 parts per million in the air and in the instance of 5 parts per million or more? Well, that’s when the concentration is considered to be so high that exposure is immediately dangerous to your health (and possibly, your life too).
Can You Smell Ozone?
Yes, ozone is easy to detect by smell even in very small quantities.
What Does It Smell Like?
What does rain smell like? That’s not a facetious question, the smell that most of us have when we think a storm is coming? That’s ozone.
And people describe this in many different ways: “clean”, similar to chlorine, like electricity, like metal, like burning metal, and even “sweet and pungent”.
If you find that this smell is a regular occurrence at home or at work then this may be an indication that you are being exposed to too much ozone and if you are experiencing symptoms of ozone exposure, it’s a good idea to have the source of ozone investigated.
Why Is Ozone Therapy Illegal?
Ozone therapy is not illegal.
It is, however, not an approved form of medication and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which often sits on the fence when it comes to “alternative health” is pretty clear about ozone therapy.
They issued a warning back in 2019 saying that there is no evidence that it is either safe or effective and should not be used for medical purposes.
Does Ozone Revert To Oxygen?
Yes, except for the ozone in the ozone layer, ozone eventually breaks down into oxygen all by itself if it’s left alone in the air for long enough.
Does Making Ozone Help The Ozone Layer?
Sadly, making ozone has no benefit to the ozone layer at all.
It might help, if you could get your ozone machine up into the outer atmosphere but any ozone made at ground level will end up breaking down in the air long before it makes it to the outer atmosphere.
And if you were producing a lot of ozone hoping to improve the ozone layer, you’d be creating a fire hazard and potentially a corrosion hazard too.