The Sweet Smell of Better Air Quality
Jan 5, 2022

Community living Involves a lot of sharing.  We share the hallways, elevator rides, fitness centers, parking garages, etc. While walking to our unit, we know when our neighbor is baking those savory chocolate chip cookies, and we know when a neighbor burnt the popcorn! We all share in the air we breathe inside our buildings (the good and the bad).

With the impact of COVID on all our lives, it is clear that Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is now a big factor in how we live and work. We spend a great deal of time at the property we live in, we work in offices, shop and eat at restaurants… all indoor spaces. The average person spends almost 90% of our day indoors, where the concentration of  some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.

People who are often most susceptible to the adverse effects of pollution (e.g., the very young, older adults, people with cardiovascular or respiratory disease) tend to spend even more time inside. Indoor concentrations of some pollutants have increased in recent decades due to such factors as energy-efficient building construction (when it lacks sufficient mechanical ventilation to ensure adequate air exchange) and increased use of synthetic building materials, furnishings, personal care products and household cleaners. Now add bacteria and viruses (including COVID), mold spores, pollen and odors, we can have an extremely challenging Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) situation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, we had a number of ambitious public health efforts. The United States eliminated yellow fever and malaria, with a combination of pesticides, widescale landscape management and window screens that kept mosquitos out. One by one, the diseases that people accepted as inevitable facts of life, became unacceptable in the developing world. But after all of this success, after all we’ve done to prevent the spread of disease through water and insects, we seem to have overlooked something.  We overlooked air. We’ve long accepted colds and flu as inevitable facts of life, but are they? What if the airflow in buildings could prevent them, and odors, as well as other harmful particles like dust, dander, mold and pollen?

Long before the current pandemic, ionization had become very popular in eliminating the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that create odors. Ion generation breaks these odors into harmless organic compounds, leaving the air smelling fresh and clean. Ionization technology also deactivates pathogens such as the coronavirus, influenza, and colds by rendering them inactive by disrupting the pathogen’s surface proteins. This technology eliminates their ability to replicate. Ionization technology also causes the pathogenic and dust particles to bundle together, or agglomerate, into much larger particulates. This is similar to a snowball
effect in which particles cluster together, where they can be caught by the HVAC system’s filter or will fall harmlessly to the ground. Note that the COVID–19 virus is .01 micron in size, so without this agglomeration, the virus can easily pass through the ventilation system’s filters.

There are a variety of ionization products available in the market today. The type that works best is an ionization device that can monitor the amount of positive and negative ions in the building in real time. This is important because negative ions have an effective lifespan of approximately one minute, while a positive ion has an effective lifespan of approximately 15 minutes. The ideal ratio of negative ions to positive ions is 2:1, so ion production needs to be variable and measurable to keep the air inside “in balance.” Sensors are placed throughout the building to make sure the appropriate amount of negative and positive Ions are

By adding positive and negative ions into the air circulating throughout a building, the air is being proactively cleaned and purified, instead of just being cleaned as it passes through the HVAC filter. This process results in surfaces being cleaned as well. The benefits to this method are many:

      • Deactivate pathogens – by binding to the pathogen and disrupting proteins
      • Cleaning the air through particulate removal – bundling for removal
      • Eliminating odors – breaking odors down into harmless compounds
      • Energy savings through reduction of outside air required

This technology works so well, that ComEd is offering rebates and/or incentives to help with the installation of this ionization technology (with monitoring), as it reduces the amount of energy used by a building annually. The amount of the ComEd rebate is determined by the reduction in annual energy consumption, which can be calculated prior to installation. With many properties having already upgraded their existing lighting to LEDs, ComEd now has funds available for additional energy saving projects.

Ionization technology products have been installed in medical buildings, schools, colleges, hotels, businesses, and manufacturing plants for many years. The improved version of ionization, with real-time ion monitoring makes IAQ a realistic possibility for multi-family residential communities. An association would reap the rewards of safer indoor air, coupled with protection from viruses, bacteria, mold, pollen, all while reducing the amount of malodorous smells the community would share. Through these systems, an association can recreate the same ionization make-up that mirrors the air above a mountain stream, or the outside air after a spring rain. As more of this type of technology is implemented, it begs the question: looking forward, will this COVID-19 pandemic be the last time we need to be concerned about the inside air we breathe?

This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue of Common Interest Click Here to Read

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