Since the COVID-19 outbreak, thousands of schools in the US have spent millions of dollars on air purifiers for their classrooms. And that makes sense. Re-opening schools is vital, and protecting teachers and students from COVID-19 transmission in the process is something to take seriously.
But two recent reports show that many schools, by installing air purifiers in the classrooms, may actually be subjecting children and teachers to more toxic chemicals. And all without actually doing much to protect students from COVID-19 in the classroom.
The type of air purifiers at the center of the controversy are ionizer air purifiers. One of the many school districts that purchased this type of air purifier was Montclair School District in New Jersey. After listening to a marketing pitch by Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) on their “bipolar ionizer technology,” the district bought $635,900 worth of ionizers from the company for their classrooms.
What’s more, many parents expressed concern over the purchase, and some even organized a petition against it. One parent went as far as producing a detailed Youtube video explaining why the system proposed by Global Plasma Solutions should not be used.
So what are these purifiers? Why are schools falling for the marketing pitches, and what’s got parents so worried? In this article, we cover all this and exactly what schools should be doing to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Schools are Spending Millions on Ionizer Air Purifiers
The types of purifiers purchased by the Montclair School District are ionizer air purifiers. Schools are buying these ionizer purifiers hoping they can help reduce COVID-19 and virus transmission in the classroom. The problem? Studies show that ionizers do little to remove COVID-19 virus particles from the air. What’s more, they even emit harmful pollutants into the air including formaldehyde, acetone, ethanol, toluene, and butyraldehyde.
Ionizers in the Classroom
The lack of evidence that ionizers work has not stopped schools around the world from being coaxed into spending millions by fancy marketing pitches. A recent study showed the ineffectiveness and dangers of ionizers. The study tested the same ionizers used in New Jersey classrooms: GPS bipolar ionizers.
The ionizers did not remove significant levels of particles .01-.3 microns in size from the air. COVID-19 particles are in this size range, ranging from .05-.14 microns.
Furthermore, the company claims their ionizers do not produce any ozone or harmful byproducts:
But the study proved this to be false. The study showed the ionizer produced a variety of dangerous gases, including acetone, ethanol, toluene, butyraldehyde, and acetaldehyde. This isn’t unique to the GPS machine. Previous research shows ionizers can produce many VOC gases including formaldehyde.
What Does Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) Say About Their Bipolar Ionizer?
Global Plasma Solutions argues that ionizers help clump together particles making them larger and therefore easier to get trapped in filters. There is little evidence to support this. Furthermore, HEPA filters on their own typically capture over 99.95% of all coronavirus-sized particles in one pass.
GPS funded their own study to show the effectiveness of their bipolar ionizer. The problem? The study used a shoebox-size space and blasted it with more than 13x the number of ions that would actually be used for a whole classroom. An actual classroom is over 30,000 times the size of a shoebox.
Other New Jersey Schools Are Also Spending Millions on Ineffective Non-HEPA Air Purifiers
While New York State is “not permitting bipolar ionization, ion generators, corona discharge, or UV technology in schools” due to “potential negative health effects”, others don’t have such rules. New Jersey has spent millions on this ineffective technology.
Newark schools have purchased more than 3,200 Odorox hydroxyl generator purifiers from a company called Pyure. Like ionizers, these purifiers do not use effective and safe HEPA filters for mechanical filtration. Furthermore, each Odorox hydroxyl generator costs $5,100. The product is proven to produce dangerous levels of ozone, which the California air quality regulators have warned consumers about.
So, What Should Schools Use To Keep the Classroom Safe?
One of the biggest reason ionizers are unnecessary is that there’s already technology out there that is low-cost and highly effective. That’s HEPA filters. HEPAs capture over 99.95% of small, dangerous particulates on the first pass. That includes particles the size of the coronavirus–and they are backed by empirical tests (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
For more information on exactly how schools can protect their classrooms from COVID-19, read our Air Purifier Guide for Schools: COVID-19 Protection.
How to Tell if My School is Using Harmful Ionizer Air Purifiers?
To find out if your purifier releases harmful chemicals, first find the make and model of your purifier.
Then, head to the California Air Resources Board list of approved air purifiers and search for the purifier. Air purifiers that may generate ozone and other harmful chemicals are listed as “Electrical” under the type column. Those that do not generate ozone or ions are listed as “Mechanical.”
Smart Air’s purifiers, shown above, are all of the “mechanical” type and do not use ionizers.
Here’s How Schools Are Properly Protecting Their Students From COVID-19
Smart Air is a certified B Corp committed to combating the myths big companies use to artificially inflate the price of clean air.
Smart Air provides empirically backed, no-nonsense purifiers like the Blast and Blast Mini air purifiers. These purifiers use only HEPA filter filtration, and do not include any ionizers. That’s why schools across the world are using them to filter the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Blast and Blast Mini air purifiers are perfect for the classrooms from 250sqft to 1400sqft. They’re quiet, effective and affordable school solutions for COVID-19 protection. Best of all, they’re data-backed, 3rd party tested, and certified by the California Air Resources Board as mechanical type purifiers that do not release ozone.