Ionic Air Purifiers Are Not Safe As You Think

A new study by the researchers at Illinois Tech, Portland State University, and Colorado State University found that ionic air purifiers, which are marketed to help reduce airborne contaminants including particles containing viruses, might actually be ineffective and can also cause unlikely outcomes.

Ionic generating systems became one of the most popular types of air purifiers on the market for its "virus-killing" capability. It has been heavily featured in advertising over the past year as it is designed to protect people from the virus that causes the transmission of COVID-19. It is said to filter out of the air faster from bacteria, fungi, pollen, smoke, molds, dust mites and viruses in a home or confined space. The convincing advertisement led to a flood of new and revamped products on the market.

However, the study found that by using the ionizing device means being exposed also to most prominently oxygenated VOCs (e.g., acetone, ethanol) and toluene, substances commonly found in paints, paint strippers, aerosol sprays and pesticides. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it can result in a range of health issues such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea. The side effects might also bring damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system or worse, some organics can cause cancer in animals and humans.

Ions added to busy and big establishments such as school or office buildings, can react with other compounds present in indoor air. The formation of harmful byproducts such as formaldehyde and ozone can possibly cause serious health problems when inhaled. Apparently, the study discovered that the ionizing devices have an inefficient test standard, confusing terminology, and a lack of peer-reviewed studies of their effectiveness and safety.

"Manufacturers and third-party test labs commonly demonstrate their product's effectiveness using chamber tests, but these test reports often don't use experimental conditions that could show how the device actually performs in real-world conditions," Brent Stephens, Chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Illinois Tech said.

Although there are few recent studies of air ionizers, its health impact is still undisclosed. Stephens believes that without peer-reviewed research into the health impacts of these devices, we risk substituting one harmful agent for another.

Meanwhile, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University and a co-lead author of the paper, Delphine Farmer noted, "We should have a much better understanding of these effects before widespread use of these types of devices,"


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