Electronic air purifiers have gained popularity since the Covid virus arrived on the scene. But it now appears some of these devices are actually polluting indoor air by creating toxins that are known dangers to human health.
Some types of electronic air purifiers work by generating hydroxyl radicals. How does it work? Hydroxyl radicals react with odors and pollutants, decomposing them. Hydroxyl radical generators have even been marketed as being able to inactivate pathogens such as coronaviruses.
Scientists evaluated the effect of a hydroxyl radical generator air purifier in an office setting. What they found was disturbing. Specifically, the researchers found that in the process of cleaning the air, the hydroxyl radicals generated by the device reacted with volatile organic compounds present in the indoor space. This led to chemical reactions that quickly formed organic acids and secondary organic aerosols that can cause health problems. Secondary organic aerosols have been associated with cardiopulmonary diseases and millions of deaths per year.
Given the growing popularity of electronic air purifiers the researchers are distressed by their findings because many consumers are unaware of the secondary chemistry taking place in the air triggered by the cleaning device itself.
“There are increasing concerns regarding the use of electronic air cleaners as these devices can potentially generate unintended byproducts via oxidation chemistry similar to that in the atmosphere.”
-Dr. Nga Lee “Sally” Ng, lead scientist, Associate Professor, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Journal reference: Joo et al., “Formation of oxidized gases and secondary organic aerosol from a commercial oxidant-generating electronic air cleaner.” Environmental Science & Technology Letters, July 14, 2021. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00416 summary