We oftentimes will come across air purifying devices during our office Indoor Air Quality investigations. For the most part, people seem happy with them. They are silent, relatively small, and create a sense that something is being done to clean the air. This then begs the question: Do they work?
The answers is: it depends. And the one thing it depends on more than anything is air movement.
The most popular air purifying devices are similar to the Ionic Breeze, put out by The Sharper Image. It is popular not only because of its sleek design and snappy name, but because it is almost noiseless. You can hardly tell the thing is running!
And this, in the end, is the problem. These devices just don't move enough air to get the job done. They rely on a more passive system that uses static electricity to suck out small particles as they pass by. The problem is, the tiny fans inside these machines do not cause enough air to pass by for it to make a difference. Also, once the metal on which the particles are deposited gets covered with dust, it loses its effectiveness.
To make things worse, those that do seem to do something to remove contaminants from the air also emit a substance that is a known health hazard – ozone. Ozone is considered a respiratory hazard, and should never be introduced into the indoor enviornment.
A good rule of thumb to employ when thinking about air purifyers is this: more air movement, more clean air. That is, of course, if the unit is equipped with a HEPA grade filter. Companies do indeed make such devices. The problem is that they are rather large, and make more noise than is most likely acceptable. In addition, these devices are only effective within a space that the device is rated for. For instance, a Consumer Reports top performing HEPA filter device that is rated for 200 square feet will be ineffective in an open space of 1,000 square feet. The device will not be able to process enough air to keep up with latent particulates that are re-mixing in this larger space.
But what it really comes down to is this: if you NEED and air purifyer in a commercial office building, then something is probably wrong. A building's HVAC system should be doing more than enough to introduce clean, fresh air to a building. If this is not the case, it is better to request improved air quality than to pin all your hopes to an electronic gadget. A properly functioning HVAC system with quality filters should provide clean enough air for most people. There are some individuals that have severe allergies and do need supplemental filtration. Individiuals with these types of allergies should have the work place evaluated by an industrial hygienist to ensure that their office space is setup appropriately.
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