Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lampe Berger Product Claims

This post would digress from my original program notes as some pertinent issues came to mind. During my first few forays into the Steven Yeam Network, I remembered attending a lecture regarding the functions and benefits of Lampe Berger by one of the Marquis. It just seemed logical to know about the workings of the lamp considering we were telling others about its many benefits, ranging from aromatherapy to eliminating odors to destroying viruses and bacteria.

If we fail to substantiate those claims made with credible and proven data how could we be sure about the integrity of the entire business that we were a part of considering Lampe Berger was DCHL’s flagship product, agreed? If we are not careful, we could only be making false statements which would constitute a lie and in the most extreme scenario we could even be endangering individuals’ health if the product was flawed, agreed?

In that particular lecture, I learnt that Lampe Berger emitted ozone which puzzled me a lot. To the best of my knowledge (having studied Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry and other environmental related subjects), ozone was a dangerous molecule to our health when present in the atmosphere close to the earth where humans and animals can breathe them in. To put it simply, ozones are high energy molecules due to their unbalanced structure. In an attempt to return to a more stable molecule (because high energy states are hard to maintain), they react with other molecules to acquire more balanced structures or to disperse their energy. However, this causes many complications to living beings from altering molecular structures that could affect cellular function. At the organism level, this translates into symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, heart attack and such. However, he reassured us that everything he told was backed by independent laboratories, even showing us certifications from one or two institutes. This was an area of study that I was not familiar with and I took his word for it because he appeared to be an authority on the matter.

My initial research on the matter did not bring up many citations and his lecture remained my only credible source but recently, I stumbled across an article from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, USA, on ozone generators that were sold as air cleaners. From peer reviewed, scientifically supported findings there was no evidence that ozone levels not exceeding public health standards could remove indoor air contaminants, viruses, bacteria, mold or odor. Some studies even indicate that it is possible to pollute the environment with ozone concentrations that exceed public health standards although adhering to manufacturer’s operating instructions. Some excerpts of interest from this document include:

Ozone is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen form the basic oxygen molecule--the oxygen we breathe that is essential to life. The third oxygen atom can detach from the ozone molecule, and re-attach to molecules of other substances, thereby altering their chemical composition. It is this ability to react with other substances that forms the basis of manufacturers’ claims.

A review of scientific research shows that, for many of the chemicals commonly found in indoor environments, the reaction process with ozone may take months or years (Boeniger, 1995). For all practical purposes, ozone does not react at all with such chemicals. And contrary to specific claims by some vendors, ozone generators are not effective in removing carbon monoxide (Salls, 1927; Shaughnessy et al., 1994) or formaldehyde (Esswein and Boeniger, 1994).

For many of the chemicals with which ozone does readily react, the reaction can form a variety of harmful or irritating by-products (Weschler et al., 1992a, 1992b, 1996; Zhang and Lioy, 1994). For example, in a laboratory experiment that mixed ozone with chemicals from new carpet, ozone reduced many of these chemicals, including those which can produce new carpet odor. However, in the process, the reaction produced a variety of aldehydes, and the total concentration of organic chemicals in the air increased rather than decreased after the introduction of ozone Weschler, et. al., 1992b). In addition to aldehydes, ozone may also increase indoor concentrations of formic acid (Zhang and Lioy, 1994), both of which can irritate the lungs if produced in sufficient amounts. Some of the potential by-products produced by ozone’s reactions with other chemicals are themselves very reactive and capable of producing irritating and corrosive by-products (Weschler and Shields, 1996, 1997a, 1997b). Given the complexity of the chemical reactions that occur, additional research is needed to more completely understand the complex interactions of indoor chemicals in the presence of ozone.

Ozone does not remove particles (e.g., dust and pollen) from the air, including the particles that cause most allergies. However, some ozone generators are manufactured with an "ion generator" or "ionizer" in the same unit. An ionizer is a device that disperses negatively (and/or positively) charged ions into the air. These ions attach to particles in the air giving them a negative (or positive) charge so that the particles may attach to nearby surfaces such as walls or furniture, or attach to one another and settle out of the air. In recent experiments, ionizers were found to be less effective in removing particles of dust, tobacco smoke, pollen or fungal spores than either high efficiency particle filters or electrostatic precipitators. Shaughnessy et al., 1994; Pierce, et al., 1996). However, it is apparent from other experiments that the effectiveness of particle air cleaners, including electrostatic precipitators, ion generators, or pleated filters varies widely (U.S. EPA, 1995).

Even at high concentrations, ozone may have no effect on biological contaminants embedded in porous material such as duct lining or ceiling tiles (Foarde et al, 1997). In other words, ozone produced by ozone generators may inhibit the growth of some biological agents while it is present, but it is unlikely to fully decontaminate the air unless concentrations are high enough to be a health concern if people are present. Even with high levels of ozone, contaminants embedded in porous material may not be affected at all.

Besides the claims on the manufacturer’s and DCHL’s websites, virtually no other scientific evidence elsewhere actually support Lampe Berger’s claims. However, many distributors defend the product citing experiments conducted by independent laboratories that proved these claims to be true. However, besides the document above, there is direct evidence refuting Lampe Berger’s claims from a lab in Hong Kong. I do not know what happened of this particular incident because I left the business soon after but all I ever heard were claims of the company demanding an official apology from the reporter concerned. Personally, that does not amount to much without proper documentation or written statements from Lampe Berger or DCHL because it remains baseless.

Even certifications from independent labs although necessary are not sufficient without the release of experimental details. Almost anything can be proven in a laboratory if conditions were controlled enough. An example of this would be the implication of Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy with the use of the Magic Bullet. It is theorized that three separate shots were fired, one missed and one hitting the President in the head, however, the last hitting both, the President and Senator John Connally taking several paths through them and changing angles several times to accomplish this. The supposed path of this Magic Bullet was proven true but the said experiment was done in a physics laboratory with the use of high tech equipment under very controlled conditions.

Can highly controlled conditions be representative of the natural environment? Can we solely rely on the words of one laboratory without any peer review? Are there other factors – laboratory funding, ownership, influence – at hand that we do not know about? Under such conditions can we expect people to be purely impartial?

What about other related ethical concerns? How are distributors and DCHL responsible for the claims they make within Malaysian law? Can profit making be more important than ethicality?

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