Be wary of excessive marketing claims for products to take care of indoor air.
For hundreds of years wizards and alchemists sought a way to be able to create gold from lead and/or other metals. From time to time one or more of them claimed that they found the way. In many cases this involved a “black box” where the lead was introduced on one end and the gold came out the other. Each time this “discovery” was shrouded in secret science or magic that could not be revealed. When these discoveries were investigated, it was found that they really did not do the job for which they were intended. (Actually, they did do the job which was to separate the fool from his money. But they did not convert lead into gold.)
Well, the modern day alchemists seem to be concentrating their efforts in the field of indoor air quality. Every day it seems like we hear about another black box that transforms bad air into good air through some magical chemical process. Unfortunately, the chances of pulling off this transformation are about the same as the lead to gold trick of the alchemists. But how does one determine this?
First, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is time-tested advice and it always is a good idea to be skeptical. Claims about health benefits derived from the use of an indoor air product are a warning sign. There simply is no good evidence to support such statements.
Secondly, if it involves chemical reactions to alter the indoor air, no one can provide any degree of assurance that the results will be beneficial. Indoor air is a complex mixture of gasses and particles. When you add things like ozone, hydroxyl radicals, hydro-peroxides and other chemicals, you really do not know what is going to happen. Some of the reactions will produce less toxic results. In other cases the reactions will produce MORE toxic results. A great example is the formation of formaldehyde in the presence of ozone. Researchers have found that reactions of ozone and a wide range of VOC’s including everything from the scents (terpenes) in cleaners to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) create significant levels of formaldehyde – a known carcinogen.
The problem is these devices are often used for and by the very populations that are the least able to tolerate any airborne irritants. The desire to create “pure” air for those with asthma, COPD, emphysema and other respiratory problems is often the rationale for making the expenditure to purchase and install the device in the first place. Instead of helping people with respiratory illnesses, these devices could be making their conditions worse.
Thirdly, watch out for the claims that the device is used in hospitals, laboratories or in some other area where clean air is necessary or that it has been approved by some governmental agency. When one examines these claims, they are found to be misleading and not altogether truthful. For example, we have found that some of the uses of the technology of the devices are for disinfecting instruments or purifying water. They have nothing to do with cleaning the air. A corollary to this rule is to watch out for claims that the product is “approved” or has been “tested” by some foreign country. This is usually a sign that someone is trying to make a claim that would be very hard for the consumer to substantiate. If the claim cannot be confirmed through third party information, don’t believe it. There are plenty of legitimate and capable testing laboratories in the US and Europe that can test devices. There is usually a reason why the device has been “tested” in some far-off land. It is not because they are “smarter” or “better” than we are.
The literature for many of these devices touts the fact that the device produces less than 50 parts per billion of ozone which they say is the voluntary limit of the FDA. In fact, the FDA only regulates medical devices and does not have a voluntary limit for air cleaners. In addition, there is no assurance that these levels are safe for those who have respiratory problems. In our studies we found that levels of ozone in the 20 to 30 parts per billion range still created substantial chemical reactions and the formation of millions of sub-micron sized particles.
Also, be wary of any claims that a device will kill mold, viruses and bacteria inside a building. If the device produces enough ozone, hydroxyl radicals, hydrogen peroxide or whatever to kill mold in a building, it also has the potential to react with human tissue which could cause serious health problems. Chemicals do not differentiate good reactions for humans and bad reactions for humans. When someone claims there is “good ozone” or “good hydro-peroxides” or any other chemical, it is a cause for concern and a sure sign that your “radar” should go up.
Fourth, if you read the marketing literature carefully and you still do not know how the device works, it probably doesn’t. The use of big (and often made-up) words does not make the device more scientific or advanced. If it sounds good, but confusing, raise the “warning” flag. This is often part of the illusion created to sell units and not enlighten you with new scientific discoveries.
In the final analysis, the world of indoor air is a buyer beware market. The best time to buy the miracle indoor air product is right after you purchase the black box for converting lead to gold.