Op-ed by Helder Pedro
President of Airpura Industries Inc.
The gigantic smoke from wildfires and the hospitalizations from Covid-19 have provided a distinctive reminder of the hazards that bad or toxic air can pose on not just our climate, but also the indoor air. There is a paradigm shift in the way people look at indoor air now, while scientists and experts have known from many years that clean indoor air can have a positive impact on the respiratory and cardiovascular health.
While this shift in focus on indoor air is a positive change, but I wonder if all the ‘expert advice’ that the public is receiving is worth following. In the last few weeks with all the air quality alerts, it frustrates and disappoints that people who profess to be experts use dubious science to make recommendations. Listen, the poor air quality we’ve experienced and its impact on health are nothing to sneeze at (pardon the pun). Wildfires are here to stay, so is the over-abundance of cheap Chinese made ‘cutesy’ air purification product and other wares that really are only peace of mind, but little else.
The problem with the air purification industry is that there is little governmental oversight, other than consumer protection laws, and Federal Commerce and Trade departments, with the sole exception of the State of California, which passed laws that try to regulate and define air purifiers to be limited solely to devices that do not produce pollutants themselves, negating any claims that the devices ‘purify’ the air. As California is the single most important market for air purification devices in North America, these rules and regulations carry huge influence into what is produced for consumption elsewhere. This is far from perfect as there is no other clear baseline established to what an air purifier should do, how it does it and for how long you should expect the performance to be maintained.
The industry has no oversight, like the Department of Transportation which polices the automotive industry, where eventually schemes to thwart standards get found out, (ie. Volkswagen’S TDI scandal, where the TDI engine performed fabulously in lab tests, but failed real world emissions standards).
Recently ,the amount of times that I have seen experts across multiple platforms use a dubious and faulty ‘standard’ like Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) ratings which were developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) in the 1980s as a way for the general public to verify the claims made by air purifiers. Interestingly, CADR only tests performance for only a few minutes and rarely exceeds twenty minutes of operation and making it impossible to account any decline in performance beyond the 20 minutes. And the so-called rating does not test performance against ultrafine particles, chemical vapors, no airborne bacteria and viruses.
Let’s go back to California and its regulations from their Clear Air Resources Board (CARB), remembering that to be compliant with it an air purification device can’t be creating its own pollutants like ozone, you can find product with ‘stellar’ numbers on AHAM’s Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) list that are excluded from sale in California because they can’t be CARB certified. That alone should be enough to force one to pause and see why. Most so called ‘air quality experts’ have not paused to ask themselves why would a manufacturer’s product be excluded from the biggest and most important North American product. The answer is the product generates ozone, which is a by-product of the ionization process, yet there it is on AHAM’s list.
Is the CADR a standard worthy of the name? Normally, standards don’t change or evolve, at least not if the standard is a good one, a foot has not changed in hundreds of years, an ounce, or a kilogram, has not been changed. Yet the CADR continues to change, and then be morphed with other arbitrary things to try to give it more credence, like power consumption. AHAM has a long history of giving umbrage to bad products since the early 80s, including some products that were the subject of huge lawsuits, and subsequent bankruptcies (note Alpine and EcoQuest, and their ozone generating products).
The tests used to get the CADR, can be easily played up and optimized to get stellar results in labs, but, the product technology and filtering, will only deliver short term results, not real world performance, (such as media that is electrostatically charged, which can for a short window deliver HEPA filter like performance, with none of the resistance created by the HEPA filters). Anything that is electrostatically charged, based on magnetic principles, it will attract, but eventually when the charged transfers to the particle, the particle will be re-released, meaning the particle arrest is not permanent like a HEPA filter but temporary, (enough to pass a lab test).
The tests themselves, can be laughable, as they only account for a small part of air quality issues, and leave a huge chunk, like all chemical vapor issues are discounted altogether, (even using a ‘smoke’ test that is all solid particulate and no chemical aspect to smoke). So not only does AHAM give umbrage to polluting product, AHAM cleverly cuts out part of indoor air quality issues that tend to cause some serious health issues like cancer and heart disease.
The CADR is tied to energy consumption, and again in a flawed lab setting, with little scrutiny to the real world in terms of how product actually works both in filtering, and airflow. Tell me if it makes sense, if I build a product with a fan which can handle very little resistance, coupled that with flimsy filters, that in the real world I would have great results, to
- a) filter a very polluted environment, and
- b) be able to generate enough airflow power to get air exchanges beyond the immediate vicinity of the air cleaning device.
The answer is very unlikely, yet this is the direction many ‘air quality experts’ will have you take.
The crux of the matter is, if I remove filter media as well as content, (meaning that I take filtering capacity away), I make a product that can get a better CADR, less filters more CADR…DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. As I have less media, I have less static pressure, I would then use a motor fan that doesn’t need to generate the same amount of suction, (again with the lab tests in mind) I get a better CADR and my rating goes up as I consume less power… great for lab, but the consumer only gets peace of mind, I as the manufacturer, get more profits, because my product costs me a very small fraction of what it actually does.
We have a conscious, and our stated goal is providing meaningful filtration, with California, with its CARB, at least says I am doing with REAL filters, filters with the ability to eat up all that pollution these wildfires have been spewing and beyond. To make a cheap ‘peace of mind’ product that AHAM seems to like legitimizing is not what Airpura is about. Note that our filters alone, weigh more than most entire devices current endorsed with the CADR. AHAM allows companies to cheat like VW and their TDI, because the tests are not real world based, they are solely conceived for a lab environment.