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The role of a certified Air Cleaner in the winter months

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As winter draws in and the temperature drops, the quality of air in our homes can deteriorate. Heating systems are started up, open fires are lit, doors and windows are shut to seal out the cold air - all of these actions can contribute to an increase of allergens and irritants in the air of your home. Sealing our homes may be more energy efficient but unless adequate ventilation is also present this can be to the detriment of our health, especially for those with asthma and upper airway disease. Lack of ventilation may also cause increased moisture levels which together with warm room temperatures give an ideal environment for growth of mold & house dust mites. An asthma & allergy friendly® certified Air Cleaner can work against these factors to reduce airborne allergens and irritants in your home during these winter months.

Medical specialists recommend that individuals suffering from asthma and upper airway disease reduce exposure to allergens and irritants in indoor air to the greatest degree possible.

The asthma & allergy friendly® certification program supports the principle that a Home Allergen Reduction Program includes all measures necessary to effectively address the presence of allergen, regardless of where it is found.

This goal can be achieved by a multifaceted approach that involves:

  1. Source control
  2. Ventilation
  3. Removal of accumulated allergens and irritants.

Effective air cleaners have an impact on removal of allergen that remains airborne. However, it should be noted that allergen associated with larger particles becomes airborne only for short periods following room disturbance, thereafter rapidly falling to the ground and re-entering the surface reservoir. In this circumstance, the cumulative impact of an effective air cleaner on such allergens will be different.

Therefore, a consumer certification program that assesses the performance of an Air Cleaner and its impact on removal of allergen that remains airborne is of value. It is with this in mind that Allergy Standards Ltd, the International Certification and Standards Body, has developed the asthma & allergy friendly® certification program. It is the only organization that is approved on both sides of the Atlantic in North America and Europe by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Asthma UK respectively.

Furthermore it must be established that apparent reductions in airborne allergen levels represent actual removal and not simply surface allergen redistribution. This is best assessed by measurement of allergen levels in both the air and surface reservoir following any defined periods of use of an air cleaner.

Hence it makes sense that assessment and subsequent certification for consumer labelling of an air cleaner should require that the air cleaner be evaluated in terms of indoor allergen levels that are representative of those found in both air and surface sampling of typical homes.

Factors relevant to this assessment:

1. Contaminants Present

  • Nature of each contaminant
  • Quantity of each contaminant
  • Distribution of each contaminant 

2. Standardized Chamber and Conditions

  • Dimensions
  • Air flow
  • Disturbance
  • Surfaces and reservoirs
  • Temperature and relative humidity.

There are a number of international rating systems which allows comparison between various machines and how they will function in rooms of varying dimensions. While these undoubtedly have a role to play, product claims based upon complex technical information may be difficult to extrapolate to overall everyday living and hence have reduced impact on the average consumer.

By relating impact to terminology used by doctors, nurses and patients, asthma & allergy friendly® Certification bridges this gap in understanding.

This testing is performed by airmid healthgroup limited, a leading testing and claim verification laboratory. airmid's laboratory and R&D facilities are vertically integrated and incorporate working with allergens, bioaerosols and particulates relevant to indoor air quality; they specialise in real life testing using state of the art environmental test chambers.

The cornerstone of Certification is the availability of accurate reproducible immunoassays for the major inhalant allergens. These assays are highly sensitive and when augmented, measure in the picogram range. Data generation involves both air and surface multi site sampling techniques with known precision and allows comparison with the established techniques of particle counting/sizing.

The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification mark is awarded to those air cleaning products that can be scientifically demonstrated to contribute to the goals of allergen reduction. Certification is provided only in terms of the exact benefit established. This benefit is then clearly specified in all documentation relating to Certification, in particular that which is presented to the consumer on the Certification Mark, enabling informed purchase choice.

It is accepted that the standard chamber conditions cannot reproduce all of the relevant conditions that may impact on airborne and surface allergen removal in a particular home. However, it is likely that an air cleaner, which functions well under the test outlined in this protocol, will also function well in the average home.

Contact Graeme Tarbox if you have any questions on the issues raised in this article and how we can add value to your company: gtarbox@airmidhealthgroup.com

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Executive briefing paper adapted from ASL Certification Standard for Air Cleaner Devices ASP: 08:01