Air Purification Systems
We all want to breathe clean air. During a global pandemic, air purification systems have started marketing themselves as a way to protect you from dangerous viruses. They seem like a good idea, but they're not going to help the way most people want. Here's what the different systems can do.
Room Air Purifiers
These units draw the air in, run it across a filter and blow cleaner air out. Some include a UV-C lamp to kill viruses and bacteria that are drawn through the device.
Most do clean the air they pump out, with varying levels of effectiveness. According to Consumer Reports, here are the things air purifiers can help with.
Pollutants such as smoke from tobacco, wood burning, and cooking; gases from cleaning products and building materials; dust mites; mold; and pet dander all contribute to an unhealthy indoor environment that have ill effects on human health.
Fine particles 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller, including those found in dust and smoke, are especially a concern because they can find their way deep into the lungs. Breathing in particles for just hours or days is enough to aggravate lungs and cause asthma attacks, and has been linked to heart attacks in people with heart disease. According to the EPA, long-term exposure to high particle levels is linked to bronchitis, reduced lung function, and premature death.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, that are released into the air from adhesives, paints, and cleaning products can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation; headaches; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidney, and nervous system. Some gases, such as radon, cause lung cancer and death.
Consumer Reports found that air purifiers do these things well.
The air purifiers that do well in our tests are proved in our labs to be good at filtering dust, smoke, and pollen from the air.
They don't do these things.
An air purifier can remove allergens only while they’re floating in the air. Larger, heavier allergens, such as mites, mold, and pollen, settle to the ground so quickly that the air purifier can’t capture them in time.
And these things we still don't know.
Radon is another blind spot for air purifiers and other air cleaners, according to the EPA: Studies are inconclusive on air purifiers’ ability to tackle this dangerous gas. And in fact, there is insufficient research on air purifiers that address gaseous pollutants as a group, so it’s unclear how effective air purifiers are. There is also limited data on the effect of ionizer air purifiers on health.
One other thing we know for sure, air purifiers aren't designed to protect you from dangerous germs like the virus that causes COVID-19. Let's assume you have a device with a filter that can capture viruses. Then assume it has a UV-C light in the unit that's powerful enough to kill viruses. That only guarantees you air that's clean the moment it leaves the machine.
Now go in a room with someone who's got COVID-19 and they aren't wearing a mask. Every breath they take is spraying viral particles around the room. If you're between the infected person and the air purifier, those infectious droplets are moving right toward you, getting inhaled deep in your lungs, before they can ever make it to the air purifier. Every time that infected person exhales, they're contaminating everything and everyone they're near.
Unless you're sitting directly in front of the air purifiers exhaust, and you know it's a unit that can kill viruses, you shouldn't count of them for protection against germs.
If you're looking for an air purifier, we suggest you start by going through the Consumer Reports Buying Guide here: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/air-purifiers/buying-guide/index.htm
Room air purifiers.
UV Germicidal Lights for Heating and Air Conditioning Systems (HVAC)
Air conditioners use filters to clean the air they move. For an extra level of protection, you can install a UV-C light to kill bacteria and viruses. Those lights also kill mold and fungi, preventing them from growing inside your AC system. That means cleaner air coming out of your vents and fewer harsh chemicals need to be used when the units are cleaned.
However, you can't count on those lights for protection from viruses. Just like room air purifiers, the air is only clean when it leaves the vents. Once it crosses the path of someone breathing germs into the air, everything mixes together and the contamination can spread.
For healthier air coming out of your vents and lower maintenance costs with air conditioning systems, UV-C lights work great. For protection against viruses? Not so much.
The video below is a great explanation of what they do and how they work.
Increase circulation of outdoor air whenever possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, etc. Do not open windows and doors if the temperature outside is too hot or cold. You should also keep windows and doors closed if they pose a safety risk to children using the facility.
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