Opinion: The germicidal effect of ambient air (open-air factor) revisited

Cox, R. Anthony; Ammann, Markus; Crowley, John N.; Griffiths, Paul T.; Herrmann, Hartmut; Hoffmann, Erik H.; Jenkin, Michael E.; McNeill, V. Faye; Mellouki, Abdelwahid; Penkett, Christopher J.; Tilgner, Andreas; Wallington, Timothy J.

The term open-air factor (OAF) was coined following microbiological research in the 1960s and 1970s which established that rural air had powerful germicidal properties and attributed this to Criegee intermediates formed in the reaction of ozone with alkenes. We have re-evaluated those early experiments applying the current state of knowledge of ozone–alkene reactions. Contrary to previous speculation, neither Criegee intermediates nor the HO radicals formed in their decomposition are directly responsible for the germicidal activity attributed to the OAF. We identify other potential candidates, which are formed in ozone–alkene reactions and have known (and likely) germicidal properties, but the compounds responsible for the OAF remain a mystery. There has been very little research into the OAF since the 1970s, and this effect seems to have been largely forgotten. In this opinion piece we remind the community of the germicidal open-air factor. Given the current global pandemic spread by an airborne pathogen, understanding the natural germicidal effects of ambient air, solving the mystery of the open-air factor and determining how this effect can be used to improve human welfare should be a high priority for the atmospheric science community.

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Cox, R. Anthony / Ammann, Markus / Crowley, John N. / et al: Opinion: The germicidal effect of ambient air (open-air factor) revisited. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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