What do Electronic Air Purifiers (Photo-Catalytic Oxidizers, ESPs, Ionizers) do?

Photo-Catalytic Oxidizers (PCO), Electrostatic Precipitators (ESPs), and ionizers are electronic air cleaners that use a powered electrostatic process or ultra-violet lights to charge particles, which then become attracted to oppositely charged plates to remove airborne particles. ESPs and Ionizers are often also called:

  • UV Sanitization
  • UVGI
  • Plasma Air Cleaners
  • Photo-Catalytic Oxidizer (PCOs)
  • Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO)

Note: If you’re having trouble breathing in your home or are noticing large particles in the air, these air cleaners will only be a band-aid to your situation and may not help or may make things worse. Please consult an Indoor Air Quality expert or request indoor air quality testing to identify what’s in the air when having issues breathing in the home, smelling odd odors, or seeing large particulates.

Electronic Air Purifiers or Electrostatic Precipitators (ESPs)

Using a high-voltage wire, ESPs charge incoming particles that are then collected onto oppositely charged plates within the ESP. Depending on the airflow rate, ESP’s can be up-to 95 percent removal efficiency. This efficiency quickly decreases when the collection plates become loaded with particles with different compositions, which can happen in minutes, hours, days or weeks, depending on the quality of the air purifier.

Ionizers or Ion Generators

These products also use a high-voltage wire or carbon fiber brush to charge the air molecules. The charge then produces negative ions that attach to airborne particles to negate their effects and cause them to settle. This also means that the charged particles deposit on room surfaces such as walls, curtains, countertops, etc.

Ultra-Violet & Photo-Catalytic Oxidizer

UV germicidal and photo-catalytic oxidizers are purification technologies that shine light of a specific wavelength on the air or coated membrane.  This process is often touted as used in hospitals or military applications. While true, the dwell time of a virus or mold spore in front of a UV light is typically insufficient when trying to sterilize particles in the air.  Additionally, by shining this UV light onto a membrane containing titanium dioxide, it can cause a catalyzing effect with similar negative repercussions as ion generators.


Negative Effects of ESP’s & Ionizers as Air Cleaners

Problems arise with ESP’s and Ionizers as air cleaners because they charge particles in the air as their filtration/purification process. Charging particles through this process may actually cause them to stick more readily to respiratory tissue, including your lungs. Aside from not reducing the dose of particles to the lungs, air cleaners also produce ozone as a byproduct. Ozone is a colorless unstable toxic gas formed from oxygen by electrical charges. Ozone is also known to cause a plethora of health issues when it comes into contact with the respiratory tract.

The EPA states that, “some air cleaning technologies may emit potentially harmful byproducts during operation. For example, Photo-Catalytic Oxidizers (PCO) air cleaners have been shown to generate formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Plasma air cleaners have been shown to form particles, ozone, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde as byproducts. Additionally, many electronic air cleaning devices — including portable and duct-mounted ESPs, ionizers or ion generators, uncoated UVGI lamps, and other products that advertise plasma or ions — can generate high amounts of ozone, a well-documented lung irritant.”


Safer & More Efficient Alternatives to Electric Air Cleaners

Media filters such as HEPA or activated charcoal filters are your best option when it comes to removing airborne particles, odors, and gases. Media filters remove particles by capturing them onto fibrous filter materials. HEPA filters are another type of media filter that has very deep pleats with a large surface area, unlike conventional pleated filters, that allows for a more efficient removal of fine particles. Activated charcoal (or activated carbon) filters are filters that have a bed of activated carbon or charcoal, that removes contaminants and impurities through chemical absorption. A maintained activated carbon filter absorbs and locks in chemical contaminates, this eliminates the possibility of air-bone chemicals converting into other offensive compounds.  

Homes and facilities that have electronic air purifiers or filtration systems may benefit from upgrading to a media filter unit to improve the air quality in your space. To talk to a professional about air filtration units that use media filters and whether they are the right fit for your location, contact Hawk Environmental Services today!

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