As students return back to in-person school, Covid safety is at the forefront of every parent and teacher’s mind. With vaccination rates low across much of the country, and still no vaccine available for those under 12, other forms of mitigation will need to be put into place in classrooms. The good news is that we already know that masks, physical distance, and air ventilation and filtration have all been proven to lower Covid transmission.
But, how exactly will the air be filtered? While the right air purifier can be an excellent tool in removing germs from the air, not all purifiers are created equally. In fact, some purifiers can even make the air worse.
Which purifiers are problematic?
Global Plasma Solutions Inc., one of the most popular high-tech air purification technologies among schools, is facing a federal class-action lawsuit claiming that not only are its devices ineffective against COVID, but they also have the potential to produce toxic chemicals into the classroom. Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) has sold tens of thousands of these units to schools across the country.
What kind of technology do Global Plasma Solutions air purifiers use?
Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) purifiers use a technology called bipolar ionization wherein small machines, usually installed in air ducts, zap passing air molecules and give them a positive or negative electrical charge. According to the company, those charged molecules, called ions, spread through the room, destroy pathogens, and eliminate other harmful contaminants. GPS claims its devices can eliminate 99.4 percent of the coronavirus from surfaces in 30 minutes and 98.3 percent of the coronavirus from the air in 60 minutes.
What is the danger in these purifiers?
According to the lawsuit, the company’s claims about COVID are “deceptive,” overstating the purifiers’ ability to fight COVID and “instilling customers with a false sense of security through misleading claims.” The lawsuit also alleges that, though GPS claims that they conduct independent tests of their purifiers, the tests were actually paid for by the company itself and employ unrealistic experimental conditions.
Is this the first time this type of purifier has come under fire?
Unfortunately, it’s not. The dangers of Ionizing purifiers have long been known. In fact, Ionic Breeze, marketed by Sharper Image, used an earlier version of the technology now employed by GPS’s devices. In 2005, Sharper Image faced bankruptcy due to a nationwide class-action lawsuit which claimed that the purifiers not only did little to clean particulates from the air, but also produced harmful byproducts.
What is so dangerous about ionizing purifiers?
A recent study, authored by researchers at Illinois Tech, Portland State University, and Colorado State University noted that inadequate test standards, confusing terminology, and a lack of peer-reviewed studies of the effectiveness and safety of ionizing purifiers have misled consumers about the potential dangers of ionizing purifiers.
One concern that the study revealed was that, while ionizing purifiers eliminate some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), they actually increase the presence of other VOCs, particularly oxygenated VOCs (e.g., acetone, ethanol) and toluene, substances commonly found in paints, paint strippers, aerosol sprays and pesticides.
This may be because ionizers work by “adding” ions which can react with other compounds in indoor air, leading to the formation of byproducts such as formaldehyde and ozone.
And it isn’t just VOCs that can be created. The study also noted the danger that ions can bind to other gases and create new fine and ultrafine particulate matter.
Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has multiple short-term and long-term health impacts. Short-term issues include eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause permanent respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease.
While PM2.5 impacts everyone, children are particularly vulnerable. One recent study called PM 2.5 “the largest environmental risk factor worldwide,” responsible for many more deaths than alcohol use, physical inactivity, or high sodium intake.
How can schools make sure to avoid unsafe air filtration units?
The benefits of clean air can not be overestimated. Clean air can help kids stay healthier, perform better academically, and even improve their mental health. But, in order to provide the best quality air purification, educators need to do their research.
Unfortunately, many companies will falsely claim that their purifiers are the best at keeping indoor air clean when in fact, there is really only one type of purifier that is effective in safely removing pollutants from the air: a purifier with a True HEPA filter.
Although the standard for HEPA filters is that they need to be able to filter out 99.95% or more of all particles which are 0.3 microns in diameter, they are actually capable of filtering out particles of almost any size. A True HEPA filter can trap dust, mold, smoke, pet allergens, PM2.5 (dangerous particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller), and even bacteria and viruses… which is exactly why the CDC has recommended them for help in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
To remove both particles and harmful gases from your classroom, look for a purifier that combines both True HEPA and activated carbon filters.