How Portable Air Purifiers Work

By: Paul Teven


Air purifiers are designed to remove pollutants from indoor air. The types of indoor air pollutants that can be reduced or controlled by portable air purifiers fall into three major classes; particulate, gaseous and biological.

Over the past several years there is ever increasing scientific evidence that indoor air can become far more polluted than outdoor air?with concentrations from 2 to 5 times to as much as 100 times those found outdoors. Given that most people spend close to 90% of their time indoors, this means that the health risks posed by polluted indoor air may be significantly greater than those of outdoor air pollution.

Indoor Air Pollutants

Particle Air Pollutants in Indoor Air

The particles of greatest concern are those that are small enough to remain suspended in room air for extended periods, where they may be easily inhaled. These very small particles can reach the deepest recesses of the lungs where they can become lodged for extended times, causing acute or chronic effects.

The term "particle" refers to the size of the pollutant and particle pollutants may include solids, liquids (in the form of mists), organic and inorganic compounds, living and dormant organisms.

According to the U.S. EPA, these small particles may cause a wide range of extremely negative health effects such as, aggravated asthma, acute respiratory symptoms including aggravated coughing and painful or difficult breathing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, respiratory infections and chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, shortness of breath and lung cancer.

And, for allergy sufferers, these very small particles may include all sorts of allergens, including dust mite feces, which contains an allergen that is thought to be responsible for a significant percentage of allergies worldwide. Serious and even life threatening allergic reactions can also be triggered by larger particles such as pollens, some molds and animal dander that may not penetrate as deeply into the lungs.

Having the cleanest possible indoor air is also important to asthma sufferers, many of whom can have asthma attacks triggered by exposure to a variety of allergens and other indoor pollutants.

The health effects from particles small enough to be respirable, known as lung damaging particles or LDPs, are dependent upon the types of particles in the environment, how concentrated they are, how often and how long a person is exposed to them and the individual's sensitivity.

Gaseous Air Pollutants in Indoor Air

There are also hundreds of different types of gaseous pollutants that have been found in indoor air. Some of these are combustion gases such as from tobacco smoke, combustion appliances such as heaters and stoves or from vehicle exhausts that enter the living space from attached garages or from outdoors.

Other gases enter indoor air from a wide variety of sources such as building materials, furnishings, cleaning compounds, air fresheners, paints, adhesives, solvents, caulks, personal care products, pesticides, waxes, craft and hobby materials, deodorizers, cooking, as well as the metabolic processes of plants, animals and humans.

Like particles, the health effect from exposure to gaseous pollutants depends upon the chemicals and their concentrations, how often and how long a person is exposed to them and the individual's sensitivity. Adverse health effects may include allergic reactions, asthma attacks, irritation of the eyes and/or respiratory tissues; effects on the liver and the respiratory, immune, cardiovascular, reproductive and/or nervous systems and cancer.

Biological Pollutants in Indoor Air

Biological pollutants are or were living organisms in the indoor environment. There are a wide variety of biological contaminants in indoor air including dust mites and their fecal matter, animal dander, cat saliva, molds, mildew, bacteria, pollen, viruses, bacteria, etc. These come from a number of sources such as plants, animals and humans and can be quite persistent in indoor air.

Many of these pollutants can be small enough to be inhaled and create the health problems caused by respirable particles as described above, while others can cause allergic reactions or be infectious or toxic in nature.

The many biological pollutants in indoor air can create a wide range of negative health effects. These include triggering allergic reactions and asthma attacks; the transmission of infectious diseases such as flu, measles and chicken pox; molds and mildews may release disease-causing toxins and biological pollutants may also cause numerous symptoms of non-specific health effects that may include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, digestive problems, fever and lethargy.

Toxic microorganisms may also grow in home heating and cooling systems and humidifiers and cause very serious illnesses such as Legionella and humidifier fever. And, very serious illnesses such as tuberculosis, measles, staphylococcus infections, and influenza are known to be transmitted by air.

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