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Demand for air purification has been growing steadily for some years. This is due to rising levels of air pollution, the prevalence of airborne bacteria and viruses, and growing health consciousness. Public interest has been reinforced by advancing scientific research on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), coupled with heightened awareness of the benefits of clean indoor air for long term health. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for better ventilation to mitigate the health risks faced by modern society, given that we spend 90% of our time indoors.
Here are the top 5 reasons for installing an air purifier:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills 7 million people worldwide every year. 9 out of 10 people breathe air with levels of pollutants that exceed the WHO’s guideline limits.
Airborne pollutants often take the form of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 particles) – 100 times thinner than a human hair – that can pass into the bloodstream and cause harm. These airborne particles, many of which transfer from outdoors to the indoor environment, include vehicle emissions, smoke, mold & mildews, pollen, and dust. With the growth of dog-friendly offices, pet dander is another hazard.
National Geographic’s ‘Pollutions Toll on the Body’ lists the adverse effects of polluted air as: changes in brain structure, higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, allergies, asthma, and cancer. Indoors, concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations and can contain up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals, particles and biological materials. Air purifiers can trap multiple categories of pollutants to safeguard health.
The WHO now advises that Covid-19 is mainly spread through the air, rather than via contaminated surfaces. But Covid is just the tip of the iceberg. Major airborne disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, including SARS, MERS, tuberculosis and norovirus.
As the world emerges from lockdown and people return to the workplace, the threat of airborne transmission escalates. Evidence is building that, after a long period of social distancing and mask wearing, people’s immune systems are compromised, increasing the likelihood of contracting respiratory viruses like flu and the common cold.
The Lancet warns of a rise in multidrug-resistant bacterial infections, which are projected to cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050 and cost the global economy US$100 trillion in lost productivity. The WHO, CDC, UK SAGE and all leading health agencies agree that airborne disease transmission is a ventilation issue. Infected individuals exhale aerosols containing pathogens, which are easily transmitted in shared office spaces, especially those with high occupancy and poor ventilation. Air purifiers can stem the spread.
For companies to thrive, they need physical interaction. Personal contact and face-to-face brainstorming stimulate new ideas and champion corporate culture. That’s why most companies want their staff back in the office, at least on a part time basis.
But some employees are reluctant to return. Anxiety about Covid persists and people have got used to WFH. For companies to entice employees back, they need practical infection control measures. Air cleaners fit the bill.
A return to the office means higher productivity, but only if employees are breathing purified air. In the USA, poor air quality results in $150 billion of illness-related costs per year. Of that, $93 billion represents lost productivity from headaches, fatigue, and irritation associated with sick building syndrome. Illness and absenteeism are the enemies of productivity.
Poor indoor air quality doesn’t just make us unhealthy. A new study from Harvard University shows that it reduces brain power, making employees less productive. The study points to a direct relationship between the amount of fine particulate matter in the air and how people perform in mental tests. The more polluted the air, the worse people perform. Conversely, purified air improves brain power, which in turn boosts retention, output, innovation and strategic decision making.
As a result of the Covid pandemic, the WHO has increased ventilation recommendations to 10 liters per person per second in order to remove airborne particle concentrations.
In many offices that is an unrealistic expectation, especially in conference rooms with high occupancy levels and back to back meetings. Even modern buildings can be structurally underventilated.
In such settings, the CDC recommends air purifiers to “give effective air exchanges without the need for conditioning outdoor air.” The CDC and other leading health authorities specifically advise on using portable HEPA filtration units that combine a HEPA filter with a powered fan system as a preferred option for auxiliary air cleaning. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is also cited as a supplemental treatment to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. The reason for using HEPA air purifiers (High Efficiency Particulate Air) is that they are proven (even by NASA) to be highly efficient at capturing ultrafine airborne particles below 0.3 microns in size, with 100% efficacy at 0.01 micron. As well as capturing microscopic particles, a HEPA filter is also 100% efficient at 10 microns, the typical size that virus particles are transmitted when enveloped in respiratory fluid.
When it comes to capital outlay, portable air purifiers tend to be a fraction of the cost of in-built Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. There is no disruption for installation and offices can reap the benefits immediately – just wheel them in and switch them on.
Energy costs are another consideration. Increasing ventilation rates, either through natural or mechanical means, means bringing more outside air into a building, which needs to be conditioned to the right temperature for a comfortable indoor environment. For most of the year this requires either heating or cooling it, which potentially leads to larger energy costs and a bigger carbon footprint. HVAC systems consume two-thirds of the site energy for commercial and public buildings in the developed world. Conditioning ventilated air to the appropriate thermal state can potentially amount to about half of a building’s space-conditioning energy. So, instead of bringing fresh air indoors, a proportion of it can be cleaned to achieve the desired air change rate, using less energy and lowering carbon emissions. Air purifiers typically consume the equivalent of a fridge freezer and cost just a few cents a day to run.The ongoing savings can quickly offset the initial capital cost of the air purifiers.
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