Berkeley Lab research shows that ozone when used to reduce nicotine odor could create damaging environment for asthmatics.
It is a common practice to use ozone generators to remove smoke odors from hotel rooms, casinos, vehicles and other indoor environments. A recent study by researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) raises questions about the safety of this procedure. The researchers found that the ozone reacted with the nicotine to create ultrafine particles that could be a significant problem for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.
The study appeared in the journal Atmospeheric Environment and is entitled “Secondary organic aerosol formation from ozone-initiated reactions with nicotine and secondhand tobacco smoke.” The lead author was Mohammed Sleiman of LBNL. Other researchers involved in the study were Hugo Destaillats, Lara Gundel, Jared Smith, Chen-Lin Liu, Musahid Ahmed and Kevin Wilson all also with LBNL.
“Our study reveals that nicotine can react with ozone to form ultrafine secondary organic aerosols and become a source of thirdhand smoke,” said Sleiman. “Because of the size and high surface to area to volume ratio, ultrafine particles have the capacity to carry potentially harmful organic chemicals deep into the lower respiratory tract where they promote oxidative stress. It has been well established that the elderly and the very young are at the greatest risk.”
The dangers of mainstream and secondhand smoke, which contain thousands of chemical toxins distributed as either particles or gasses, have been well documented. In February of 2010 this same group of researchers published another study showing the potential health hazards of “thirdhand tobacco smoke.” This reacted with nitrous oxide, a common indoor air pollutant, to produce dangerour carcinigens.
Released as a vapor during the burning of tobacco, nicotine is a strong and persistent adsorbent onto indoor surfaces that is released back into indoor air for a period of months after the smoking ceased. Ozone is a common outdoor air pollutant that infiltrates indoor spaces through ventilation and leakage.
Co-author Lara Gundel stated that: “Not only did we find that nicotine from secondhand smoke reacts with ozone to create ultrafine particles – a new and stunning development – but we also found that several oxidized products of ozone and nicotine have higher values on the asthma hazard scale than nicotine itself.”
Co-author Hugo Destaillats summarized the findings: “In our previous study, we found that carcinogens were formed on indoor surfaces, which can lead to exposures that are dominated by dermal uptake and dust ingestion. This study suggests a different exposure pathway to aged secondhand and thirdhand smoke through the formation of ultrafine particles. The reactions of ozone with terpenes have been shown to produce ultrafine particles. But this is the first time that nicotine has been tagged as a potential candidate to form ultrafine particles or aerosols through a reaction with ozone.”
The results of these studies confirm conclusions reached in the first article this author wrote about nicotine and ozone reactions back in 2005. In this article entitled “Formaldehyde Increases Through Exposure to Ozone from Ionizers and Ozone Generators” we summarized findings of tests conducted by Columbia Analytical Services for The Sharper Image on the Ionic Breeze when used in the presence of Environmental Tobacco Smoke. In this these tests it was found that the particles in the 0.3 micron range actually increased when the Ionic Breeze was operated in a chamber where cigarettes had been “smoked.”
These results are interesting in that they show that nicotine-ozone reactions can take place with relatively low levels of ozone. The LBNL study was conducted using higher levels of ozone. The study with the Ionic Breeze was done with ozone levels in the 10 ppb to 30ppb range. These levels are common in indoor environments.
Another finding of the Columbia Analytical tests with the Ionic Breeze and tobacco smoke is that the formaldehyde in the test chamber increased significantly. The tests were conducted for eight hours. In the control chamber the formaldehyde did not increase. In the chamber with the Ionic Breeze the formaldehyde increased from 82 ppb to 123 ppb with most of the increase occuring in the last 4 hours of the test. It is likely that this increase was a result of the ozone reacting with the nicotine that was desorbed from the surface of the chamber.
The new LBNL study and the earlier findings summarized in our article suggest that not only is the use of ozone generators a bad idea to reduce perceived odors in indoor environments, it can actually be detrimental to those with respiratory illnesses. Once again we see that indoor air chemistry does not always produce the desired results. In fact, more often than not the use of ozone and other Reactive Oxygen Species produce chemical reactions that are unintended and undesirable.