September 14, 2020

Indoor Air is Killing You

Staying indoors is a refuge from all sorts of risks. These days, your home or office space is ground zero for staying healthy. Unfortunately, these spaces can be deadlier than the diseases you’re trying to protect yourself from.

Even if your building doesn’t have lead paint, or there’s no asbestos in the building materials, you’re still at risk. Potential toxins lurk everywhere. Do you use cleaning products with chemicals? Do you have a central heating and cooling system? For most of us, the answer to these questions is yes.

To reduce heating and cooling costs, newer buildings are incredibly well insulated. That might benefit your pocketbook, but it traps accumulating toxins inside. Poor ventilation helps these toxins build up. That can cause you to manifest short-term symptoms such as a runny nose, red eyes, a scratchy throat, and more. However, these can devolve into long-term diseases, such as respiratory diseases, cancer, and heart disease. This problem is compounded by the fact that most indoor pollutants aren’t a one-time event. Furniture, air fresheners, or improperly adjusted appliances–like a gas stove­–constantly emit pollutants. Toxin levels accumulate in your body over time, which results in those long-term health problems.

All Filters Aren’t Created Equal

Reducing the toxins in your workspace is crucial. Smart shopping–such as checking the ingredients in the household cleaners you use–is a great start. But proper ventilation is the only way to combat volatile organic compounds. Periodically opening a window isn’t enough. It isn’t practical in inclement weather, doesn’t remove these compounds from the air, and can only dilute them. High capacity airflow paired with filtration is the proven method of reducing pollutants and improving indoor air quality.

Filtration matters because of particle elimination. Your lungs are designed as a filter, but they can only be taxed to a certain extent. It’s better to eliminate as many hazardous particles as possible before they ever reach your respiratory system.

However, not all filters are created equal. Some barely catch particles that are visible to the human eye. While any filtration is better than none, some are incredibly ineffective and provide a false sense of security. Filters need to remove ultrafine hazardous particles, increase dilution ventilation, and deactivate harmful pathogens.

Don’t Upgrade Your HVAC System

Practical ventilation requires a non-intrusive, portable solution. However, most buildings are already equipped with an HVAC system, which stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. HVAC filtration doesn’t meet standards for removing the most hazardous ultrafine particles from the air, though. And due to economic concerns, most buildings with HVAC systems are well-sealed. That drastically reduces the opportunity for dilution ventilation.

HVAC systems are impractical for reducing volatile organic compounds, the type that accumulates in your workspace, and your body over time. Of course, you could upgrade your HVAC system to improve filtration. These types of upgrades are incredibly disruptive and expensive. They’re also impractical–the next tenant of the building you’re leasing will be the one benefiting. When you move to another location, you’ll have to start all over. Air bypass–when air goes around the filter, rather than through it–is also an issue for HVAC systems, which makes highly precise upgrades impractical in the first place.  

What’s the Rating Scale for Your Filter?

When it comes to air purification systems, two types of filters are common–MERV and HEPA filters. The acronym MERV stands for minimum efficiency reporting value, and the scale goes from 1 to 16. These filters are effective for removing larger particles, like pet dander and pollen. Filters with higher MERV ratings can remove smaller, hazardous particles.

All MERV filters aren’t equal. A MERV-11 filter can remove many particles, while a MERV-2 filter is good for the largest particles. As a filtration standard, the golden rule of thumb for MERV is the higher, the better. This is especially true if you’re looking to capture aerosolized infectious droplets, the kind that fuels airborne transmission of viruses like the flu.

Why ‘HEPA-Type’ Filters Are Useless

HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. To meet this standard, these fiberglass filters must remove 99.97% or more of particles that are 0.3 microns. Filters that achieve this standard are called True HEPA filters. However, manufacturers and companies can hijack this term by using terms like HEPA Like or HEPA Type. Since these terms aren’t regulated, they are misleading. Companies that use these terms intend to benefit from the HEPA association, while not providing the HEPA quality and particulate removal that True HEPA filters achieve.

Using a combination of MERV filtration and True HEPA filtration produces a two-step filter process. This eliminates larger particles, such as pet hair, smoke, odors, and more. Removing these large particles first is an important filtration step that requires high airflow, which is why the Omni CleanAir Professional Series machines are equipped with 360-degree airflow.

Untreated air is pushed through a MERV-11 pre-filter, our SureUVC chamber, and then a HEPA-18 filter. This two-step filtration process removes all larger particles first, which protects both your health and your HEPA filter. Then, the HEPA filter removes hazardous ultrafine particles.

Why Practical Ventilation Matters

Continuous and reliable mechanical filtration is important because of the risk of human error. When it comes to reducing the risk of indoor air, there are many layers of controls. There are administrative controls, which involve company-sponsored work-from-home arrangements. There are human controls such as directing employees to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gloves and masks.

However, the element for human error has a massive impact on risk levels. Humans are forgetful and do things such as inadvertently touch our face or rub our eyes. Engineering controls like portable air purification systems don’t have these issues.

That’s why engineering controls should be considered in any holistic strategy to improve indoor air quality and reduce health risks posed to employees. An engineering control solution that includes technologies to increase ventilation, eliminate pathogens, and contaminants with HEPA filtration and inactivate biologic pathogens using high intensity, close contact UV-C is perfectly suited to delivering safer indoor air.