Air purifiers in demand amid COVID-19 Delta outbreak and wildfires

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Between the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and more recently the sweltering smoke sent into the air by western wildfires – some of which have drifted thousands of miles to settle over towns on the east coast – l he very air Americans breathe has gone from an afterthought to a disturbing threat.

The air purifier industry is one sector that has successfully capitalized on these dual crises. Sales have increased since the pandemic began in 2020, a trend that has been supercharged this year by unprecedented climate change-induced hells raging across the West.

Researchers who spend their days thinking about air quality say certain purifiers can be an effective way to purify indoor air – and that when it comes to the coronavirus, they potentially help reduce the risk of transmission – when combined with other traditional precautions.

The air handling systems market is expected to grow 29% this year, according to research and consulting firm Verify Markets, in part thanks to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 and smoke from the fires of forest in the West. It follows a growth rate of 57% in 2020, when Americans rushed to buy anything they thought could keep them from getting infected.

This year, regarding the consequences of wildfires in the West, Maria Harris, air pollution specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said “there is no place in the United States that does not is not potentially vulnerable “.

As long as users follow certain guidelines and aren’t swayed by hyperbolic marketing claims, portable purifiers can be helpful in tackling poor air quality. And you don’t necessarily have to shell out thousands of dollars to get a solid machine.

In the United States, search engine queries for related terms have surged over the past month, with the phrase “air purifier for smoke” becoming 140% more popular, according to Google Trends. Not surprisingly, interest has grown stronger in the Northwest, where the fires have been terrible this summer. But it was also robust across the country in places such as Mississippi, highlighting the widespread impact of disasters.

Smoke from wildfires has been linked to a range of negative health effects, including asthma attacks and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, Harris said.

This is “of particular concern in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “The pollutants in smoke can harm health in a number of ways, so anything we can do to reduce exposure is a good idea. “

What to look for in a purifier

Choosing a product, however, can seem daunting with so many brands and models on the market. The first step is to make sure the purifier has a high-efficiency particulate air filter, more commonly known as HEPA, according to Lew Harriman, retired research director at the Mason-Grant consulting firm.

When it comes to tackling the spread of the coronavirus, Illinois Institute of Technology engineering professor Brent Stephens said the empirical evidence supporting air purifiers is newer and less concrete. But he added that he thinks they can be useful. He pointed to a July report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found in a study done this year that a HEPA air purifier can reduce indoor COVID-19 exposure, in particular when it is associated with a masking.

Stephens normally avoids add-ons such as ionization systems aimed at inactivating viruses, as the literature on them is limited, he said. In addition, he said there were indications that these technologies could prove to be counterproductive. Some HEPA models include such features, which it simply turns off.

He recommends checking the clean air flow of an air purifier, an industry standard that can be used to measure efficiency. The higher the rate, the more particles the unit can filter out and the more it can serve, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. For wildfire smoke, users might want to purchase a model that filters odors in addition to pollutants, Stephens said. Harris, with the Environmental Defense Fund, also advises analyzing third-party effectiveness tests.

To make sure people get clean air wherever they are in the house, Harriman suggests buying several small purifiers and scattering them around the house, which could also cost less than buying. of a larger machine. It’s more efficient to be near a working air purifier indoors, he said, rather than relying on the reach of a large purifier in another room.

All in all, there is also no need to spend a fortune. Some “workaholic models” cost between $ 500 and $ 600, Stephens said, but it’s also possible to get “really good products” for $ 200 to $ 300. The price will of course depend on what is available in a particular area and whether others are also rushing to buy the devices.

Reliable HEPA cleaners include those made by Blueair AB, Honeywell International Inc., and Coway Co., among others, Harriman said. Over the past three months, Coway purifier sales have increased 102.8% compared to the same period in 2020, spokesman Jordan Weintraub said in an email. The company typically sees a peak when air quality deteriorates amid forest fires.

Harris said she had experienced the reassurance that air purifiers provide to reduce pollution on smoky days, in terms of the feel and smell of the atmosphere in her home. But she notes that relying on devices to deal with the threat posed by a deadly pathogen or the fallout from global warming is not a long-term strategy.

Many people “don’t have the resources to make purchases like private air purifiers to help reduce their exposure,” Harris said. “There are societal solutions needed here, very clearly. “

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