A Second Look at Air Purifiers

May 29, 2012

Air pollution is likely to kill more more than car accidents, according to a study commissioned by Hewlett Foundation. The study also captures the cost to families of missed days of work because of illness related to air pollution (ozone and particles), sick leave paid by employers, costs to HMOs and insurance companies from hospital treatments, and premature deaths, among other costs.

Knowing how costly it is to get sick, people and even organisations resort to measures that can at least reduce the presence of harmful particles or allergens in the air. Among these solutions include air purifiers, which are devices that help increase the air quality in the surfaces, and hence increase the individuals breathing rates.

But with the numerous solutions available in the market today, choosing the right solution to address a requirement can be tricky. In this article, HealthCareAsia talks with Leonard DCruz, an expert in air purifying solutions for hospitals at Soma Medical Sdn Bhd to share with us some insights that can help consumers weave through the facts and myths on air purification systems.

HCA:  Lately, we’ve been reading news on people getting sick even in the confines of their homes or office buildings. Is indoor air dirtier than outdoor air? Why?

DCruz: In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. This has largely to do with industrialization and poor environmental management. Research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.

HCA: What is the most common misconception that consumers have on air purifiers?

The most common misunderstanding or misconception in thinking that all air purifiers are designed the same and they will literally lift the dust off all the surfaces of your furniture and kill any kind of air borne contamination. This is so not true.

HCA: Not all purifiers are one and identical (HEPA filters, electronic cleaners and hybrids), how can consumers differentiate them?

DCruz: Evidently this is very true.  Instead of questioning the integrity of air purifiers available in the market, we prefer our clients follow the recommendations given by Environmental Protection Agency and Centre for Disease Control of the United States and use this information as the bench mark. Needless to say, the best evaluation on the effectiveness of any air purification system would be through a pre and post installation microbial challenge test.

HCA: Which types of air purifiers is the most efficient in removing the smallest particles? Why?

DCruz: Firstly, we need to understand what kind of particulates we are concerned with. Evidently, the best solution is to use HEPA filtration systems with a MERV (minimum efficiency rating value) below 17. It’s important to note that there are many air purification equipment claiming to have HEPA incorporated but very few provide specification as to the MERV rating.

HCA:  Which types are best suited for hospitals? Is there a specific requirement for buildings in tropical countries? What are those requirements?

DCruz: In essence, we at Soma Medical have always advocated that the hospital follow the guidelines given by EPA. They have recommended the use of equipment that incorporates negative ions, HEPA filtration, bipolar ionization, and UVC. All these working in unison will provide for an effective 24/7 sterilization solution protocol.

HCA: How about negative ions in the air? Are ionizers effective?

DCruz: Negative ions can be beneficial. In nature, negative ions are generated by processes such as sunlight, lightening, waves from the ocean and from waterfalls. Today’s concrete jungles however minimise the natural production of negative ions by disrupting the delicate electrical balance between the atmosphere and earth. Most ionizers recreate them with electrode pins to electrically produce negative ions.

Actually, negatives ions are beneficial to human body. Studies show that it can strengthen the functions of autonomic nerves, reinforce collagen, strengthen the body’s immune system.

HCA:  Aside from installing an air purifying system what can people do to make their indoor air cleaner/ less stale?

DCruz: The most effective alternative is to allow for fresh air to circulate in an indoor environment through ventilation.  In short, ventilation is the process of removing polluted, stale, moisture-laden indoor air and replacing it with fresh outdoor air. Over that past several decades there has been a trend in the residential building industry to make houses and buildings more energy efficient during construction.  This to some extent has compromised on the presence of fresh air ventilations and intakes thus the problem of pollution build-up indoors. Needless to say, this is only one of the many mitigating factors why proper ventilation needs to be considered when the option is made available.

HCA: What are the most common design blunders (that block air flow) you see in buildings today?

DCruz: High rise buildings that have sealed glass window which depend on the existing air-conditioning centralized system to provide for ventilation through fresh air intakes. This, most often than not, does not effectively do what’s required for good and proper ventilation.

HCA: A recent article highlighted that even the best air purifiers don’t always help allergy sufferers and some just trigger more harm than benefits — may we know your thoughts on this?

DCruz: This is only true if the proposed air purification equipment in not periodically maintained according to the manufactures guidelines on routine filter replacements. Needless to say, all HEPA have a lifespan and if this is allowed to go unattended then there will ultimately be a build up of hazardous microbial contamination within the unattended filters. This well only further contaminate the air rather than purifying the air, therein lays the problem that “triggers” more harm than benefits.



Category: Features, Uncategorized

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