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It may surprise you to learn that 75% of reporting zones in the UK still have illegal levels of air pollution! In October 2020 Clientearth published an article highlighting the on-going fight against UK air pollution. Katie Nield, UK clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, explains: “Air pollution has been far above legal limits for 10 years and 2019 was no exception.” In this article we look at air pollution and the part your air conditioning system can play in air purification.
Effects of Air Pollution
Air pollution has been a concern for many years. In the late 1970’s the EU developed and implemented a series of Directives to look to improve air quality. The first was the Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC) and its sister directives define the policy framework for 12 potential air pollutants known to have a harmful effect on human health, including NO2, carbon monoxide and PM.
Research shows that air pollution causes 40,000 deaths a year and is one of the world’s leading risk factors for death, only lower than high blood pressure, smoking and high blood sugar (according to Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in its Global Burden of Disease study in 2017).
During the pandemic air pollution appeared to decrease and air quality improved due to the restriction on travel. However with the easing of restrictions a study by the Centres for Cities carried out in partnership with CREA found that pollution went back to or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 39 of the 49 cities and large towns that were analysed.
Indoor Air Pollution
Clearly air pollution is an on-going and troubling issue across the UK (and around the world). What is even more troubling is that it’s not just pollution of “outside air” that we need to be aware of. Indoor air can in fact be as unhealthy as the air we breathe outside.
The UK government voiced the concern that it‘s time to recognise that indoor pollution is just as important as outdoor pollution to our health in a published “Postnote” entitled “UK Indoor Air Quality” (PDF) as early as November 2010. The government document is focussed on indoor pollution within the home rather than within businesses but the same principles apply to both.
As we spend much of our time indoors it’s important to consider indoor air pollution and how we can tackle it.
Indoor Air Pollutants
There are a number of indoor air pollutants including:
Particulate matter, also known as fine particulate matter or PM is a mixture of fine solid and liquid particles which are suspended in the air and is made up of both outdoor matter and matter generated indoors. The World Health Organisation (PDF) state that the “chemical constituents of PM include sulphates, nitrates, ammonium, other inorganic ions such as ions of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride, organic and elemental carbon, crustal material, particle-bound water, metals (including cadmium, copper, nickel, vanadium and zinc) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). In addition, biological components such as allergens and microbial compounds are found in PM”. These particles range in size and composition. Particulate matter between 0.1μm and 1μm in diameter can remain in the air for days or weeks. Exposure to particles that can be inhaled can affect your lungs and your heart as well as causing eye, nose and throat irritation.
Cleaning products can release chemicals into the air including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ammonia and bleach. Some of the more familiar VOCs include toxic chemicals from benzene and toluene to formaldehyde! Health effects of breathing in VOCs include eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches and nausea plus other more serious health complications.
We all know just how invasive dust can be if cleaning isn’t carried out on a regular basis. However, even with regular cleaning dust can form airborne particles known as “motes” which are carried in the air. The type, size and quantity of these dust particles determines how much of a health risk it is. Inhaled dust particles can cause sneezing, eye irritation, hayfever, coughing and asthma attacks. For anyone with a respiratory condition e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) or emphysema even very small amounts of dust can make these conditions even worse.
Pollen can make its way into an indoor space when windows and doors are left open. By its very nature, pollen is designed to be carried in the air to enable flowers (and weeds), grasses and trees to reproduce. Due to the fine nature of pollen it can be carried great distances. Pollen is considered to be one of the main factors in causing allergic reactions including “allergic rhinitis,” sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose. Pollen exposure can also result in “allergic conjunctivitis” which results in red, itchy or watery eyes and can also cause asthma attacks. Many people think the “pollen season” only occurs in the spring and summer however this is not the case. In fact it starts as early as January and ends as late as November, usually peaking in April and May – that’s 11 months of the year that you can find yourself exposed to pollen particulates!
Naturally occurring allergens like mould and mould spores (also known as mildew) can occur indoors where there is damp. Mould is a natural fungal growth which plays a vital role in nature, in breaking down dead organic matter. However it isn’t something you want to find or encourage to grow in your office, restaurant or gym. Mould reproduces through spores. These spores are small enough that they are invisible to the naked eye and can float round in the air, attach themselves, spread to other surfaces or be inhaled. Mould spores can cause a variety of symptoms including eye irritation, nasal issues, itchiness and respiratory problems.
The materials used in buildings can lead to the release of substances into the air, including some chemicals, can be released from carpets and furniture and electronics. Sometimes known as “off-gassing” (the release of harmful gases trapped in products and materials during production). Eventually, these items can release these volatile organic compounds as particulate matter and gases.
Toxic gases can build up within an indoor environment. Naturally occurring radon gas can appear in a building by rising from the ground. Some areas in the UK have higher levels of radon than others. The level of radon in the outside air that we breathe is very low, but it can be higher inside poorly ventilated buildings. Though usually found at lower levels indoors than outdoors, ozone can infiltrate a building from outside.
Reducing Indoor Air Pollution (Through Air Purification)
Clearly given the amount of time we spend indoors reducing indoor air pollution is very important to our health and wellbeing. The British Lung Foundation website states that “We spend about 90% of our time indoors – at home, at work, at school, or when we go to shops or restaurants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer” and goes onto say that “Everyone is at risk from indoor air pollution. If you’ve got COPD, asthma, bronchiectasis or any other lung condition, you’re much more likely to be affected by poor air quality.”
Given the amount of time we spend indoors it’s clearly important that we make every attempt to reduce indoor air pollution as much as we can. So how can we do this?
Air Purification – Filters and Sanitisation
One way to reduce indoor air pollution is through air purifiers which fall into two categories: those which use filters and those which “sanitise”. In some cases both types can be used within the same unit. Filters improve indoor air quality and air purification by filtering out dust, pollen, spores etc. Sanitising air purifiers kill bacteria, viruses, mould and other spores. The most common type of sanitising air purifiers use UV-C light.
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) air purifiers use short wavelength Ultraviolet C (UV-C) light technology to carry out air purification. In a previous article “When It Comes To Air Purification Does UVC Work?” we looked at the effect of UVC on bacteria and viruses, a much discussed subject given the pandemic and the need to make workplaces safe from coronavirus. UVGI air purification works by exposing the air to UVC light as it’s passed through the unit. The UVC light effectively destroys any bacteria or viruses in the air rendering them harmless up to 99% efficacy.
Another technology used in air purification are Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP). Electrostatic precipitation removes particles like dust and smoke from the air by applying an electrostatic charge. As the air (and dust particles) move past wires that carry a high negative direct current (DC) voltage they pick up a negative electrostatic charge. A positively charged plate (collecting plate) attracts the now negatively charged particles where they are “collected” and retained. The plate is regularly tapped or shaken (known as rapping) to remove the particles for disposal. State of the art electrostatic precipitators can remove over 99% of all particulates.
UVGI and ESP technologies can be combined to offer optimal air purification which is suitable for large workspaces. One unit can cover an area of 80-120 sq metres. The unit can be mobile or retrofit into a building’s existing HVAC system and are suitable for a range of wide range of workplaces including offices, restaurants, hotels, shopping centres, leisure facilities as well as hospitals.
Which Air Purification System Is Right For Me?
The right air purification system for your business space will depend on whether you have an existing HVAC system or are looking to install a new HVAC system. It will also depend on the air handling capacity of your system and the size of your workspace/building. If you already have an HVAC an air purification system can be retro-fitted.
Keeping the indoor air you breathe as clean as possible also comes down to how clean your HVAC system is. Your HVAC has filters which remove dust, dirt, pollen, germs etc. but only if the filters themselves are clean and well maintained. If the filters are left to accumulate dust they can become clogged and as well as your HVAC having to work harder to maintain the temperature within your building (costing you more in bills) they will eventually stop efficiently filtering the air.
In the case of the UVC part of your HVAC there are no replacement filters required for these units however the components still need to be cleaned regularly by a professional engineer and the UVC lamps may need to be replaced from time to time.
Maintaining your HVAC and Air Purification System
Clearly maintaining your HVAC and air purification system is important in ensuring that it continues to work efficiently and effectively in maintaining the indoor temperature and keeping the air clean.
Synecore are offering a free survey to offices, schools, supermarkets, shops, venues, restaurants and other commercial environments to find the best air purification solution to meet your needs.
Planned preventative maintenance also plays a vital role. Synecore offer air conditioning service / planned preventative maintenance (PPM) packages to suit your business and the size of your premises, overseen by an experienced project manager so you know you are in good hands. Your PPM includes scheduled visits throughout the year, as often as is required to keep your system efficient and compliant. We cover Kent, London and across the UK.
Our PPM package is likely to detect a fault before it becomes an issue preventing any downtime at all. If however your system does go down between scheduled visits you’ll receive high priority status. An engineer will be on your site within hours and your equipment we will make sure that your system will be back up and running as quickly as possible.
If you would like to learn more about how to keep your air conditioning system in top shape, through a PPM, please contact Synecore on 01795 509 509 or via our contact form. Our team will book an appointment for one of our engineers to visit your site and discuss your options.