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Skip the gimmicks to clean indoor air

How to keep yourself safe from the coronavirus as we move back indoors this winter:

Excerpts from the article in case it’s behind a paywall:

Unless you are living with an infected person — in which case the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers specific guidelines to follow — protecting yourself at home does not particularly require extraordinary measures, Dr. Marr said.

And when you venture elsewhere, wearing a face covering and washing your hands are still the best ways to protect yourself indoors.

But fear of the risk of transmission indoors has fueled a market for expensive devices that promise to scrub surfaces — and even the air — clean of the virus. But most of those products are overkill and may even have unintended harmful consequences, experts warned. “Anything that sounds fancy and isn’t tried-and-true — those are all things to avoid,” said Delphine Farmer, an atmospheric chemist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “Soap and water work beautifully.”

Simple solutions to try now.

Here’s one that’s easy and free: If possible, open your windows, “especially during the shoulder season when the conditions are more mild,” Dr. Allen said.

The trick is useful for car travel, too. Just cracking open a window a little can help disperse any coronavirus that may be exhaled by other riders.

A non-oscillating fan placed in a window and away from people may increase the airflow in a room without these risks.
If the air is polluted, or if there aren’t any windows to open, then air filters — even portable ones — may be the answer. They can rid the air of the coronavirus.

For a classroom or office, a portable air cleaner suited to the room’s size “is a great low-cost plug-and-play strategy to give you several air changes per hour of clean air,” Dr. Allen said. These are compact devices that can be plugged into any outlet; effective models are available for less than $200.

But some air filters offer features that experts referred to as “gimmicks” — useless at best, and dangerous at worst. So-called exotic cleaners are not regulated by any federal agency, but they have been aggressively marketed to schools and businesses, Dr. Farmer, the atmospheric chemist, said.

“There’s a lot of potential for damaging side effects,” she said.

Some devices generate ozone — yes, that ozone, a respiratory hazard — while others produce dangerous hydroxyl radicals that may injure cells. There are products that claim to rely on “bipolar ionization” to break down the coronavirus, but they may also produce ultrafine particles that are dangerous when inhaled.

Working with the coronavirus requires rare high-safety laboratories, so a vast majority of these marketing claims are based on research with other viruses. Those studies were mostly funded by the manufacturers themselves, and they are not vetted by independent experts or by regulatory agencies.

Some businesses, including dentists’ offices, are fumigating their premises with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. But chemical sprays that “clean” the air would need to be so concentrated that they would also be toxic to people, experts warned.

So which products can you trust? The experts’ advice: Avoid all of them.

“We don’t need these gimmicks,” said Brent Stephens, an indoor air quality expert at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. “I’ve got an air cleaner here that we use, and it has a weird little ultraviolet light on it. But I don’t really trust it. I just turn it off and use it as a way to move air through the filter.”

Ultraviolet lights are a step too far.

UV lights are regulated mostly for use as pesticides and are not well studied for use around people, she added: “I get really nervous when I see people pushing UV disinfection.”

UV light generally does not penetrate deep into a surface and will not destroy virus that’s buried beneath other microscopic detritus.

It takes time for UV light to kill the coronavirus, and experts cautioned against using UV devices unless you’re willing to spend the time and money to purchase models that can be installed by a skilled professional.

“The ones used in hospitals are from a handful of companies with scientific validation, but are extremely expensive,” Dr. Popescu said. “The average school or office doesn’t need them.”

The virus thrives in dry air, so some companies are also selling heavy-duty humidifiers for HVAC systems as a way to keep indoor spaces inhospitable to the coronavirus.

But unless the humidifier can maintain the space at precisely 40 percent to 60 percent humidity — which would require an overhaul of most building systems — it’s unlikely to be useful, experts said.

5 Likes

I’m not the first one to mention this, but in a year or two, the late-night ads will start running: “Were you or a loved one exposed to excessive amounts of disinfectant, UV light, air filter effluents or other chemicals during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in cancer, neurological disorders, lung damage, vision, joint, muscular or gastrointestinal disease, disability or death? You may be entitled to a legal settlement and substantial compensation. Call the law firm of . . .”

9 Likes

All along I’ve been thinking that all these gadgets and gimmicks, disinfecting the laundry, and spraying everything down with disinfectant is just pointless time and expense. If soap and water deactivates the virus on your hands, why wouldn’t it do the same thing on the surfaces, on the laundry, etc?

4 Likes

The hand sanitizers contain alcohol and we use them as much as 50 to 60 times per day at work. Certainly this can’t be good. The staff washes down countertops etc with bleach and everyone inhales it. That can’t be good. We substitute one little evil for another

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