Low concentrations of ozone gas effectively sanitize surfaces against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus after a few minutes, according to an Israeli research group.

Ozone, found in the thin layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that guards us against harmful UV radiation, has long been used as an antibacterial and antiviral agent in water treatment.

Now that studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 remains active on aerosols and surfaces for hours or days — depending on the nature of the surface and environmental conditions – scientists have been experimenting with ozone as a virus-killing agent.

In July, researchers from Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa used ozone to create ethanol from plant and paper waste to use as a hand sanitizer.

Dr. Ines Zucker of the School of Mechanical Engineering, Tel Aviv University. Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University

“Gaseous ozone is generated from oxygen gas by electrical discharge. Now, for the first time, we have managed to prove that it is highly efficient in combating coronavirus as well,” said Ines Zucker from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

“Its advantage over common disinfectants such as alcohol and bleach is its ability to disinfect objects and aerosols within a room, and not just exposed surfaces, rapidly and with no danger to public health,” said Zucker.

She estimates that, since ozone gas can be produced relatively cheaply and easily by readily available technology, it should be possible to introduce ozone disinfecting systems on an industrial scale to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ozone gas is generated by electrical discharge — the breakdown of chemical compounds into their elements using electric current. During this process, oxygen molecules are reconstructed in the form of ozone molecules.

The researchers demonstrated that ozone successfully inactivated coronavirus particles on various infected surfaces, even in hard-to-reach locations. A high level of disinfection of above 90 percent was achieved within minutes, even on surfaces that people do not typically disinfect with liquid disinfectants.

This method theoretically could be used to disinfect hospitals, schools, office buildings, hotels, airports and entertainment halls.

The research team led by Zucker included Moshe Dessau from the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine at Bar Ilan University in the Galilee and Yaal Lester from Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem.

The preliminary findings of their study were published in the journal: Environmental Chemistry Letters.