LIMA — Some businesses and workplaces are turning to devices that claim to kill germs in the air. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies acknowledge the coronavirus can linger in the air in crowded, indoor spaces with poor ventilation.
But the CDC is now warning that some popular products like dry hydrogen peroxide devices and ionizers, which are popping up in restaurants, universities and government buildings around Lima and the U.S., are still unproven in their ability to reduce airborne coronavirus transmission, while other devices like HEPA filters, window fans or even an open window can filter or push contaminated air outside.
The CDC, which updated its ventilation guidance on Dec. 15, stopped short of saying the devices don’t work as marketed. But the agency did say that there is a lack of peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support manufacturer claims and that consumers should be cautious when purchasing devices that it classifies as emerging technologies.
For Dr. Michael Bisesi, an environmental health scientist and professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, the primary question is whether the devices are safe and capable of deactivating a large enough percentage of airborne viruses lingering in the air to be effective, especially when those devices are used in larger rooms than the manufacturer may have intended.
The Titan 4000 Hydroxyl Generator, for example, purports to decompose air pollutants into carbon dioxide and water by forming a reaction with water and oxygen in the air to produce hydrogen peroxide molecules, which are dispersed by the machine’s fan into the room to purify the air. The company says its product is safe and is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Type 2 medical device, safe for use in baby and neonatal wards.
“In one statement, they’re saying they don’t pose a hazard to occupants because they’re so reactive, they react in seconds,” Bisesi said. “So, if they’re so reactive and they react in seconds, if you have a portable unit at one side of the room and it’s dispersing air into the room — are they still in an active form by the time they get to the other side of the room?”
Bisesi also noted the similarities between the hydroxyl generator and ozone generators, a once-popular device that produces ozone gas to remove air pollutants. It has since been found to damage lungs when inhaled.
Both devices disperse another contaminant into the room, Bisesi said, which in turn introduces the potential for respiratory and eye irritation, whereas a HEPA filter, one of the CDC-recommended ventilation strategies, filters contaminants out of the air to reduce coronavirus and other viral transmission indoors.
Titan’s manufacturer countered that its generators do not introduce the potential for contaminants in the air, and there is zero potential for respiratory or eye irritation because the hydroxyl generators were designed to be a safe alternative to ozone generators and have been approved by the California Air Resources Board. The company acknowledges it hasn’t been tested on COVID-19 yet, but testing is scheduled for early 2021.
“So, the question is: is it better to release something into the air to help the nature deactivate the virus,” Bisesi asked. “Or, if you could have an equally effective way using HEPA filters to enhance the filtration of the air or remove the contaminant in their air — I’m in favor of removing the contaminant from the air when there’s occupants.”