If you´re like most people, your air filter has an ionizer included. The ionizer is supposed to help freshen the air. New research, however, shows that ion generators have the potential to actually decrease air quality and add to air pollution.
Ion generators negatively charge particles. Negatively charged particles are often found outdoors and have been associated with fresh air. Thus, many air purifiers include an ionizer button.
But these ionizers also emit ozone, which degrades air quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the following warning about the health effects of ozone.
"The same chemical properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic material outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic material that makes up the body, and potentially cause harmful health consequences. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs (see - "Ozone and Your Health" - www.epa.gov/airnow/brochure.html). Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections. People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone. Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone. Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects. Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures (US EPA, 1996a, 1996b)."
Another concern about ozone is that it can easily react with hydrocarbons known as terpenes found in the air to produce secondary organic aerosol, carbonyls, carboxylic acids, and free radicals. Terpenes are commonly found in cleaning solvents and plug-in air fresheners. Therefore, the home environment is an ideal place for ozone to react with terpenes. When ozone reacts with terpenes, ultra fine particle concentration increases. Ultra-fine particles have been associated with asthma and respiratory disorders.
There is also the potential for ion generators to increase aldehyde concentration in the air. Aldehydes come in many forms, the most common is formaldehyde. The EPA says:
"Exposures to formaldehyde, acrolein, and other aldehydes occur at work, in homes, and outdoors. Inhalation of high doses of formaldehyde has produced nasal tumors in laboratory rats, and lower concentrations have irritated eyes and air passages in humans.
At concentrations exceeding usual outdoor levels, aldehyde inhalation can alter breathing patterns by narrowing airway openings (airway constriction). It can also damage cells lining the airways, prompting white blood cells to enter the lungs."
Since the ionizer button is optional, air filter users can opt to leave it turned off. Better made air purifiers, such as medical grade purifiers with triple filtration (pre filter, true HEPA filter, and a carbon filter) generally do not include an ionizer.
Other protective measures include removal and disposal of all air freshening and scenting devices. These products are laden with chemicals that have adverse health effects. They don´t freshen the air; they only add scent to it. If the air is stale, cleaning and improving ventilation by opening windows and keeping air circulating will not only freshen the air, but improve overall health.
Waring MS, Siegel JA. The effect of an ion generator on indoor air quality in a residential room. Indoor Air. 2010 Oct 20. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00696.x. [Epub ahead of print]
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
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