Now that the hole in the ozone layer is starting to heal, (according to a UNEP press release,) this intriguing molecule has dropped out of the headlines. It’s a pity because ozone’s ability to protect us goes beyond blocking solar ultraviolet radiation.
Ozone (O3) is the three-atom form of oxygen. Whereas the two-atom form is found in the air we breathe, the third atom creates a molecule that reacts with almost everything it touches. That makes it a powerful disinfectant, able to destroy bacteria and other toxins. It also means it’s unstable, quickly breaking down to breathable O2. As a result, there’s no ozone distribution industry as there is for other gases. Instead it must be generated at the place where it’s needed.