There’s controversy in every area of life these days, isn’t there? Even when you’re looking for an air purifier for your home, it seems you can’t escape it. One of the most recent developments in air purifiers in the past few years is the “ionic” type, and the questions seem to swirl around it like smoky air.
The air ionizer, or negative ion generator, is supposed to clear the atmosphere around you by giving an electric charge to air molecules. In other words, ionizing them. Then floating contaminated particles are attracted to the air molecules, similar to the way dust particles are attracted to a monitor or television screen. This pulls the particles out of the air and toward the electrodes in the purifier.
So this is a good thing, isn’t it? That’s exactly what you want, right? That the unwanted particles in the air should be pulled out of it, to make it more clean and breathable?
But this is where the controversies begin. The problem is that when extra ions are attracted to oxygen molecules (and remember that air has a large percentage of oxygen), they create ozone. And ozone is extremely toxic, except at very low levels.
It’s true that ozone can kill bacteria in the air. But it would have to be at a high enough concentration that it would do considerable harm to humans as well. It can damage the lungs as it’s breathed in, and can even damage the cells in the brain that help people to perceive odors.
If ozone is present in the air in a higher concentration than 80 parts per billion (that is, 80 particles in every billion air particles), you can start sneezing, coughing, and wheezing after 8 hours. Even small rises in ozone levels can worsen asthma and even, according to recent studies, increase the risk of death.
Consumer Reports did tests on several different ionizing air purifiers just after the turn of the century, and found that the majority of them failed to meet the upper safety limit of 80 parts per billion, when it came to ozone levels. And the problem the testers noted is that in the United States, there was no actual government standard for what the levels should be. The Environmental Protection Agency only regulates outdoor air, and since these purifiers are not medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t regulate them indoors either, at least at the time the tests were done.
Another complaint against ionizers that isn’t mentioned as often is that if the air is humid, they don’t just produce ozone, but also create a combination of nitrogen and oxygen that is often called “laughing gas.”
By now you might be thinking that this whole business just seems too complicated – and even too risky – to consider going with an ionizer for an air purifier. But even though Consumer Reports found negative results for almost all the available products, they did find that a couple worked very well. It might be possible to do some in-depth research and find an ionizing air purifier that you can feel certain about. The technology is still being developed, and standards and regulations being worked on.
Or if you’d prefer, perhaps you’d like to use a different kind of air purifier for a while. Just until all those kinks and standards are finally ironed out.