by Seth Wyatt, Purafil, Inc.
How can proper air filtration help prevent employees from getting sick?
Many viruses and bacteria are airborne or aerosolized. Essentially, very small water droplets can float around in our air for many hours, and viruses and bacteria can float around within these droplets or attached to other small particles in our air. People breathe these droplets and particles into their lungs, and with enough exposure someone can contract an illness. Aerosols can be generated by talking, yelling, coughing, sneezing, etc. The smallest particles that are generated this way are invisible to the naked eye. By proactively cleaning our air and removing these types of particles with HEPA filters, we are able to mitigate the risk of virus and bacteria transmission so we are less likely to make our coworkers sick. As it relates to SARS-CoV-2, aerosol transmission has been shown to be the primary mode of transmission, and while you can still get sick from coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, surface transmission is far less likely than airborne transmission. Beyond virus and bacteria transmission, there are also contaminants in our air that cause irritation, inflammation, and other illnesses that can have both short- and long-term health impacts. These contaminants can enter from outdoors (think car exhaust) or be generated by a furnace, gas stove, cleaners, or things we burn like candles and incense. There is up to five times more pollution indoors than outdoors. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and clean air is absolutely critical to our overall health and well-being.
Does aromatherapy come into play with air filtration?
Aromatherapy can be a good thing, but any odors can potentially cause an unpleasant reaction for people. Many people like certain odors but not others. Certain technologies can eliminate and reduce odors. Activated carbon is a popular media used to eliminate odors; however, carbon saturation point is unpredictable and once saturated, carbon can off-gas the odors it has captured. Usually there is very little carbon in a portable air cleaner. Gas phase filtration and molecular filtration media is far superior to carbon when it comes to removing gases and other toxins that have odors, and this type of media allows for an instant and irreversible reaction to occur, so no captured gases or fumes will be reintroduced into the environment.
What exactly is air filtration, and how does the science of this help us understand different kinds of purification?
Air filtration is essentially the process of removing airborne particles from the air by using air filters. These air filters capture dust, pollen, toxins, etc. The air filters capture and hold the contaminants before the air is recirculated by the HVAC system. Air purification is the process of sanitizing the air by neutralizing airborne toxins (gases, viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens). Air purification goes beyond just capturing the contaminants. There are different technologies that can neutralize contaminants, and some are safer than others and should be researched and understood: UVC, oxidation, antimicrobials, etc. Generally speaking, subtractive technologies (meaning removing things from the air) are going to be safer than additive technologies (where things are being proactively put in the air) to combat contaminants. Examples of additive would be ionization, ozone, hydrogen peroxide, etc. When proactively putting things into the air to combat contaminants, you have to consider that you are breathing these things into your lungs and these things are also able to go out and react with things in the environment—cleaners, paints, etc. The byproducts from these reactions are unknown and could be harmful.
Why is this so important? What are the benefits?
This is important because we spend the vast majority of our lives indoors (home, work, and vehicle)—around 90 percent of the time in the US. There are many contaminants in our indoor air that we cannot see. When speaking specifically to airborne viruses and bacteria, the people around us in our homes, offices, and public settings can very easily introduce pathogens that linger in our air for hours and can make many people sick in a short period of time. Specific to SARS-CoV-2, ~15 minutes of exposure over a 24-hour period is enough to make someone sick—that is a really short amount of time, and if our air is not being cleaned often and well, the pathogens remain for us to breathe into our lungs for a long period of time.
How can this help with odor in the workplace?
General air ventilation via your HVAC system will remove odors slowly, but not with much efficiency because HVAC systems are not designed to pull out the gases that cause the odor, so we just end up recycling it over and over. Certain portable air-cleaning products use technology that can capture and remove gases and odors. Gas phase molecular filtration media chemisorbs gases and odors in an instant and irreversible reaction, so once captured, those odors will not be released back into the air. Some portable air cleaners that leverage molecular filtration type medias can be highly effective for odor control and odor elimination.
ASCP members receive a deep discount on Purafil’s PuraShield 500 air purifying system designed to remove aerosols carrying harmful viruses and bacteria, odors, allergens, smoke, volatile organic compounds and toxic gases. Protect yourself and your clients by creating a healthier indoor air environment. Sign in to view your exclusive member discount.