Trends: How to Get Low-Level-Pollutant Clean

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Outside magazine, October 1995

Trends: How to Get Low-Level-Pollutant Clean
By Mark Jannot

Capitalism at its best: ozone, the same pollutant that can singe our lungs, is now being marketed as the key to a crop of new air-purification systems. “Ozone is nature’s cleansing agent,” says Moe Lepenven, president of Warwick, Rhode Island-based Quantum Electronics, which makes the $399 Deluxe Ozone Purification System. “It’s the only reactant in the air that will work
against the compounds of pollutants.”

The key argument in Lepenven’s sales patter is that the oxidant qualities that irritate the tissue in the respiratory system also make ozone–in smaller quantities–a powerful agent for breaking down cigar smoke, bacteria, and other odor-causing agents. “I think ozone is misunderstood,” explains Lepenven. “Produce the same quantity that you’d breathe in the clean air of the
mountains–about .01 to .03 parts per million–and you’ll neutralize the pollutants around you.” The Deluxe Ozone Purification System, which looks something like a sleek, portable heater, puts out as much as .05 parts per million of ozone.

Predictably, Lepenven hasn’t yet sold a system to anyone at the EPA. “I’ve gotten into arguments with people hawking such devices,” says Howard Kehrl, physiology section chief at the agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “They’re right–you do find low-level precursors to ozone emitted from trees. But that
doesn’t mean trees are producing them as a protective mechanism.”

As a counterpunch, Lepenven invokes laundry hung out to dry. “The ozone oxidizes the residues of soap in clothing,” says Lepenven, who’s sold 3,000 units through the Sharper Image catalog (800-344-4444). “Ozone is what gives the laundry that great clean smell.”