Negative Ion Facts

Approved by the U.S. FDA (Food & Drug Admin.) as an approved allergy treatment.
In March of 1999, Good Housekeeping Magazine had its engineers test an ionizer by using a smoke test, and found that it cleared out the smoke in a tank.
A recent study by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture found that ionizing a room led to 52% less dust in the air, and 95% less bacteria in the air (since many of the pollutants found in the air reside on floating dust particles).

Negative ions improve asthma and other respiratory conditions.

There is nothing subjective about a bawling baby"
Brazilian hospitals now commonly use negative ion generators to treat breathing problems, after a test involving 36 children with asthmatic allergies. In each case, the problem was consistent or crippling. During the treatment, only one of them suffered an asthma attack. Afterward, no attacks were suffered by any of the children that sustained regular negative ion therapy (Soyka, 1991).

In 1966, a hospital in Jerusalem conducted a study involving 38 babies, between the ages of two and twelve months, with about the same degree of respiratory problems. The babies were separated into two groups of nineteen. One group was treated with nothing but a negative ion electronic air cleaner, while the second group was administered the standard treatment, which included drugs and antibiotics with side effects. The babies in the group treated with the negative ion air purifier were cured of asthma and bronchitis much more quickly than those in the control group. The babies in the negative ion group were also found to be less prone to rebound attacks. Less scientifically, doctors found that the babies treated by negative ion-enriched air didn’t cry as often or as loudly. But as Fred Soyka, the author of The Ion Effect puts it, "there is nothing subjective about a bawling baby" (Soyka, 1991).

"Monotonous Regularity"
In 1975, an East German doctor, who had by then treated more than 11,000 individuals with various respiratory conditions with a negative ion electronic air cleaner, said that his patients reported with "monotonous regularity" that the therapy had worked (Soyka, 1991).

In the early 1960s, Dr. A. P. Wehner used negative ion generators to treat over 1,000 patients in the U. S. suffering from various respiratory ills, such as bronchial asthma, pulmunary emphysema, laryngitis, bronchitis, dry hacking cough, upper respiratory tract infection, and allergies. He reported that the symptoms completely disappeared in 30.3% of the cases, improved significantly in 42.3% of the cases, showed some improvement in 20% of the cases, and showed no signs of improvement in 7.4% of the cases (Wehner, 1962).

It’s all in the numbers
In Britain, two Oxford University statisticians conducted a study among victims of asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever. The sample was randomly selected from a list of people who had purchased a negative ion air purifier. Through interviews, they found that 18 of 24 asthmatics, 13 of 17 bronchitis sufferers, 11 of 12 hay fever victims, and 6 of 10 suffering from nasal catarrh, reported that the product had noticeably improved their condition. A few even reported that it cured their condition (Soyka, 1991).

When a negative is better than a positive
Postive ions, which occur in high levels in many indoor environments, inhibit the body’s ability to prevent pollutants and contaminates from entering the vulnerable areas of the respiratory tract. However, an overdose of negative ions has proven to provide counteraction to this effect (Kreuger, 1974; Soyka, 1991; Tchijewski, 1960).

Reduce and/or destroy bacteria, viruses and other microbes

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
A recent study by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture found that ionizing a room led to 52% less dust in the air, and 95% less bacteria in the air (since many of the pollutants found in the air reside on floating dust particles).

Agriculture Research Service (of USDA)
The Agriculture Research Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture tested the effectiveness of ionizers for removing dust in a poultry hatchery. The dust level is very high in such an environment. In this study, the use of an ionizer resulted in dust removal efficiencies that averaged between 81.1 and 92.2%. The airborne transmission of salmonella (to the eggs) was also significantly reduced as a result.

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Journal of Hygiene
Scientists showed that ionization reduced bacterial levels in burns and plastic surgery units by over 96% after a two week period, which results in much better and more rapid healing of patients.

Journal of Applied Microbiology
The use of negative ions was even found by scientists to reduce the presence of airborne viruses by about 40%. A study featured in the 1987 issue also showed the negative ions are free from any adverse side effects.

Negative ions are needed in order to take in oxygen.

"Please, we’re dying here!"
Russian scientist, Dr. A. L. Tchijewsky, tried raising mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits in totally de-ionized air. Almost all of them died within two weeks due to an inability to utilize oxygen properly (Tchijewski, 1960).

Tchijewsky’s colleague, Dr. D. A. Lapitsky, tried raising small animals in air completely devoid of oxygen. He added only negative ions to the air as they were about to die from asphyxiation. At which point, their respiration frequency drastically increased, as they began to sit up and run around the chamber (Tchijewski, 1960).

Don’t travel to space without `em
Former NASA scientist James B. Beal, who came across the negative ion problem while studying the type of environment needed in space capsules, wrote: "The human race was developed in ionized air. Nature used the ions in developing our biological processes." In other words, people have been designed to function properly in an environment that contains certain level of ionization (Soyka, 1991).

The more the better
Fred Soyka, author of "The Ion Effect" reports that based on the 5,000 plus scientific documents that have been published regarding negative ion studies, all support the conclusion that an overload of negative ions seems to be beneficial (Soyka, 1991).

Negative ions counteract the effects of smoking.

High levels of negative ions neutralize the effect that tobacco smoke has on the cilia. Cilia are the microscopic hairs located in the trachea that move rapidly back and forth to prevent pollutants and toxins from traveling into the vulnerable areas of the respiratory tract. The faster the cilia move, the more effective they are. However, tobacco smoke slows down the ciliary beat, diminishing the body’s ability to keep cancer-causing pollutants from entering the depths of the respiratory tract. Tests have shown though, that adding high levels of negative ions to the air accelerates the ciliary beat to normal levels (Soyka, 1991).

Negative ions help prevent respiratory-related illnesses.

"I hope I’m in group one."
In a study conducted in a Swiss textile mill, negative ionizers were placed in two, 60’ by 60’ rooms, each containing 22 employees. In one room, the negative ion electronic air cleaner was turned on during the course of the study. In the other room, the negative ion air purifier was permanently turned off, although the employees in this room were led to believe they were working in a room enriched by negative ions. During this six-month study, a total of 22 sick days were lost by employees working in the room in which the negative ionizer was operating. In the room where the machine was not operating, a total of 64 days were lost to sickness. During a month-long flu epidemic, the first group lost a total of 3 days to sickness, while the second group lost a total of 40 days to sickness (Stark, 1971).

In a test involving a Swiss bank office, one group of 309 worked in a negative ion-treated environment. A second group of 362 worked in an untreated environment. Over the next several months, for every day lost to respiratory illness (cold, flu, laryngitis, etc.) in group one, 16 days were lost to respiratory illness in group two (Soyka, 1991).

"We liked them so much . . ."
In a Surrey University study at the Norwich Union Insurance Group headquarters, eight negative ion generators were placed in the computer and data preparation section. Before the test, the research team spent a month compiling incident rates for complaints of sickness and headaches. During the test in which the negative ion air purification systems were in operation, incidents of sickness and headaches were reduced by 78%. After testing was completed, the Norwich Union opted to keep the negative ion electronic air cleaners (Soyka, 1991).

Negative ions help prevent migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches originate when an overload of serotonin causes the diameter of blood vessels leading to the brain to dilate, and get wider in the brain. Consequently, blood flow increases, and pain receptors in the vessels are stretched, which leads to the excrutiating pain associated with a migraine headache (Borne, 1998; others). In numerous tests and studies though, negative ion treatment has proven to prevent the overproduction of serotonin, and therefore the subsequent migraine headaches (Kreuger, 1957; Soyka, 1991; Sulman, 1974).

Negative ions are a natural anti-depressant.

. . . and without the side effects!
In a study conducted by Columbia University, 25 people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Depression) sat in front of a negative ion air purifier for a half hour every morning for a month. Half the subjects were given a low level of negative ions, and the other half a high level. The higher level of negative ion treatment proved to be as effective against SAD as antidepressants, such as Prozac and Zolof, and without the side effects of these drugs (Finley, 1996).

Negative ions for a positive attitude
Positive ions, which are found in abundance in most indoor environements, cause an overproduction of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps the body deal with mental, emotional, and physiological stress. An overproduction initially causes hyperactivity, which rapidly leads to anxiety, and in some cases depression. Negative ion treatment has proven to be successful in reducing the overproduction of serotonin, and therefore successful in alleviating depression in some cases (Kreuger, 1957).

Negative Ions Help Combat Fatigue.

In 1957, a study published in the Journal of General Physiology concluded that negative ions reduce the overproduction of serotonin, a neurohormone that leads to exhaustion, among other things, when overproduced (Kreuger, 1957).

Negative Ions Enhance Mental Performance and Concentration.

The Alpha wave rythms say it all
In 1969, Dr. Sulman, head of the department of Applied Pharmacology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the time, brought in groups of people to spend some time in a room low in negative ions, and also in a room that contained an "overdose" of negative ions. While in each room, subjects were given word, figure, and symbol tests. They scored "significantly higher" on these tests when they were in the negative ion-enriched room. Plus, while in the negative ion room, they showed (via the electroencephalogram) a slower, stronger pulse rate of Alpha waves from the brain. Alpha wave rythms are a measure of the brain’s acitivity and health. A slow, strong Alpha wave pulse rate indicates healthiness, calmness, and heightened alertness. When the subjects were in the negative ion-deficient room, they showed signs of irratibility and fatigue in addition to lower test performance (Sulman, 1974).

The more difficult the better
In the study conducted by Surrey University at the Norwich Union Insurance Group headquarters, the employees in the computer and data preparation section that were exposed to high levels of negative ions showed a 28% increase in overall task performance. The more difficult the task, the more dramatic the improvement tended to be (Soyka, 1991).

Driving mad
In 1972 in Geneva, statistics showed that whenever there was a drastic change in the weather, and a consequent drop in the negative ion concentration in the air, traffic accident rates rose by more than 50% (Soyka, 1991).

Negative ions enhance physical performance.

The Ion Olympics
After World War II, the Russians extensively studied the relationship between negative ions and physical performance. A team of doctors, psychologists, and physicists observed and measured the performance of Olympic athletes in various conditions of negative ions levels. In each test of physical performance, the group that trained in facilities, and stayed in quarters high in negative ion concentration showed tremendous improvements in performance in comparison to the control group (Minkh, 1961).

Negative Ions help us to sleep better.

In 1969, French researcher found that the overproduction of the neurohormone serotonin caused sleeplessness and nightmares. In using a negative ion electronic air cleaner to treat a group of people experiencing sleeping problems as a result of serotonin overproduction, he found that most of them were able to sleep better (Soyka, 1991).

Negative ions aid in the treatment of burn patients.

In 1959, Dr. Kornbleuh treated a group of 138 burn victims at Northeastern General Hospital with negatived ionized air. Within this group, 57.3% suffered significantly less pain and discomfort, while healing more quickly and thoroughly. Only 22.5% of the control group (the group of burn victims treated through conventional methods rather than negative ionization) experienced similar improvements in the same time frame. Statistically, the odds are 1,000 to 1 that these results were coincidental. This study, along with other follow up tests, were evidence enough for the hospital, which subsequently equipped its postoperative wards with negative ion generators. The effectiveness of negative ion treatment in these tests are likely a result of the extraordinary ability of negative ions to remove pollutants from the air, resulting in reduced infection and irritation of burn wounds (Kornbleuh, 1959).

This article from Consumer Reports seems to refute some of the claims stated in your "New Negative Ion Generator" article concerning health benefits.

New concerns about ionizing air cleaners

Buying an air cleaner that doesn't clean the air is bad enough. Some of the least effective ionizer models also can expose you to potentially harmful ozone levels, especially if you're among the roughly 80 percent of buyers with asthma or allergy concerns.


Months of testing and investigation yielded these findings:

• Many ionizing air cleaners like the kind we tested do a poor job of removing particles from the air.
• Two separate tests--in a sealed room and in an open lab--show that some can create significant levels of ozone.
• Ozone is a growing concern. People with asthma and respiratory allergies are especially sensitive to it.
• Some ads include endorsements that mean little. (See Air cleaners: The truth behind the accolades.)
• Consider low- or no-cost air-cleaning alternatives. (See CR Quick Recommendations.)

Also known as electrostatic precipitators, the five ionizing air cleaners we focused on for this report are supposed to trap charged particles on oppositely charged plates. But as we reported in our October 2003 report on air cleaners, models like Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze, the market leader, did a poor job removing dust and smoke from the air. Our latest tests also show that some ionizing models can expose you to significant amounts of ozone.

Unlike ozone in the upper atmosphere, which helps shield us from harmful ultraviolet rays, ozone near ground level is an irritant that can aggravate asthma and decrease lung function. Air cleaners need not meet ozone limits--not for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates only outdoor air, nor for the Food and Drug Administration, since it doesn't consider them medical devices, despite the health benefits that some ads imply. (See Air cleaners: The truth behind the accolades.) Manufacturers often submit air cleaners to a voluntary standard that includes a test to see whether they produce more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone, the same limit the FDA uses for medical devices.

We replicated that test using the sealed polyethylene room specified by Underwriters Laboratories Standard 867 to help ensure consistent results. Ozone levels were measured 2 inches from each machine's air discharge in accordance with the standard. All five ionizers failed the test by producing more than the 50-ppb limit--in some cases, much more.

People don't live in sealed plastic rooms, however. So we also tested these ionizing air cleaners in an open, well-ventilated lab. For comparison, we also tested a top-performing Friedrich electrostatic-precipitator and a Whirlpool HEPA model from previous reports.

We measured ozone levels 2 inches from the machines, as in the sealed-room test, and 3 feet away, since ozone becomes diluted and dissipates rapidly indoors as it reacts with carpet, upholstery, and other surfaces. In our lab tests, two ionizing models--the IonizAir P4620 and the Surround Air XJ-2000--emitted more than 150 and 300 ppb, respectively, 2 inches from the machine.

While few people are likely to sit 2 inches from the air discharge, where our ozone readings were highest, you could be exposed to higher levels than those we measured at 3 feet if you take a cue from manufacturers. The IonizAir's box shows it on a desk near a keyboard and on a nightstand near a sleeping woman. The Ionic Pro CL-369 is shown next to a sofa, while the Surround Air's manual suggests placing it “nearby those suffering from breathing or other health problems.”

Ozone from ionizing air cleaners is a greater concern as sales increase. Ionizers now account for about 25 percent of the roughly $410 million per year spent on air cleaners as brands such as Brookstone and Oreck compete. (We plan to test the Oreck in a future report.)

INDOOR OZONE hits the radar

Experts agree that an ozone concentration more than 80 ppb for eight hours or longer can cause coughing, wheezing, and chest pain while worsening asthma and deadening your sense of smell. It also raises sensitivity to pollen, mold, and other respiratory allergy triggers, and may cause permanent lung damage.

Most indoor ozone is carried inside with outdoor air. Regulators have given indoor ozone less attention than outdoor ozone, since dilution and dissipation typically lower indoor levels by 20 to 80 percent. But Charles J. Weschler, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, notes, “Since we spend so much time indoors, exposure is often greater than outdoors.“

[] An advertisement featuring a woman sleeping next to an air clea
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Images like this could prompt you to place some air cleaners near enough for you to breathe relatively high ozone levels in their air stream.
Recent studies of ozone's cumulative effects also raise concerns. A 14-year study of 95 urban areas in the U.S. found a clear link between small increases in ozone and higher death rates. The study looked at days when outdoor ozone concentrations didn't exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's 80-ppb standard over eight hours, according to the study's lead author, Michelle L. Bell, assistant professor of environmental health at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“We were able to tease out the relationship between ozone and mortality, even accounting for each day's weather and particulate pollution,” Bell said in an interview. “A small increase in ozone was associated with a small increase in mortality and a larger increase with a larger increase in mortality, even in cities with low ozone levels.” The study predicts that a 10-ppb increase in ozone over eight hours could lead to roughly 3,700 premature deaths per year in those cities.

Another ozone study conducted in 2001 over six months in southern New England by the Yale University Center for Perinatal, Pediatric, and Environmental Epidemiology links ozone levels well below the EPA's 80-ppb standard to a higher risk of respiratory symptoms and use of rescue medication for children with severe asthma. Indeed, the study found ill effects even on days when ozone levels were 20 ppb lower than the EPA standard over eight hours.


While ozone dissipates indoors, it can create other pollutants in the process. Research suggests that ozone reacts with the terpenes in lemon- and pine-scented cleaning products and air fresheners, creating formaldehyde--a carcinogen--and other irritants. Those byproducts can be absorbed by beds and carpets, and be released over an extended time frame. Research has also found that ozone reacts with terpenes to create additional ultrafine particles, which are hard to filter and can go deep into lungs.

A regulatory black hole

Ionizers such as the five we focused on are adding ozone indoors just as regulators work to cut ground-level ozone created outdoors as pollutants react with sunlight. The federal EPA's acceptable outdoor level is 80 ppb over eight hours. This year the California EPA recommended lowering the state's outdoor limit to 70 ppb. World Health Organization standards are tougher at 60 ppb over eight hours.

Several states, the EPA, and Canada have issued warnings about ozone generators, a small segment of the air-cleaner market. While ionizers emit ozone as a byproduct, ozone generators create it by design and purport to offer health benefits. Consumer Reports found two such models Not Acceptable as early as 1992.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is reviewing scientific and government data on all air cleaners that create ozone. The CPSC is also evaluating whether the 50-ppb industry standard is adequate protection for consumers, and it may recommend a lower limit. A report is expected later this year.

No federal agency sets indoor ozone limits for homes, however. The EPA has authority over ozone outdoors, not indoors, though it publishes booklets on indoor air quality and runs the Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse. Interestingly, the EPA doesn't take a strong position for or against buying any air cleaner.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates medical devices but says air cleaners aren't covered because manufacturers make only vague, health-related claims, rather than claims related to specific diseases. Nonetheless, the 50-ppb ozone limit for medical devices is also the threshold used in the industry test.

Some manufacturers tacitly acknowledge that their ionizers create ozone and may pose risks. Brookstone's owner's manual suggests that “any person suffering from heart, lung, or respiratory illness should consult his or her physician before using this unit.” But that advice is buried deep in the manual's text.

The bottom line: Consumers Union believes that the CPSC should set indoor ozone limits for all air cleaners and mandate performance tests and labels disclosing the results. CU also believes that the Federal Trade Commission should take a close look at air-cleaner ads to determine whether they include unsubstantiated and deceptive claims.

In the meantime, we recommend avoiding ionizers that performed poorly or emitted significant ozone in our tests. “We can't guarantee safety at any ozone level, so it makes sense not to contaminate your living space,” says Jonathan Samet, M.D., chairman of the epidemiology department of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

Elton M Bryant Jr

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