Can disinfection units make workplace air safer to breathe as Omicron spreads, and are they worth the cost?

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In the age of Covid-19, a loud sneeze in the office can turn heads, especially if the attacker is not masked.

So, in addition to complaining about air conditioning running too hot or too cold, workers are now wondering if inflated ventilation can deal with virus particles, helping slow the spread of Omicron.

For Auckland business owner Greg Nell, installing an air freshener at his Nelly Boo baby gear store was all about peace of mind for shoppers, many of whom were women pregnant or parents with unvaccinated toddlers.

“They spend a lot of time here, and especially with Omicron, we felt it was the best way to keep our customers safe, even if it’s a big expense.”

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Nelly Boo's owner, Greg Nell, says he couldn't afford the $3,500 to $4,000 price tag to buy a self-contained air-purifying unit, so monthly rental was a better option.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Nelly Boo’s owner, Greg Nell, says he couldn’t afford the $3,500 to $4,000 price tag to buy a self-contained air-purifying unit, so monthly rental was a better option.

It costs Nell about $200 a month to rent her device from water cooler company Big Blue, which started distributing portable air purifiers in 2020 and has supplied thousands to hotels, hospitals, dentists , law firms and accountants, hairdressers and New Zealand. Olympic teams in Tokyo and Beijing.

Quest Henderson franchisee Greg Scott invested around $30,000 to install similar technology in the Auckland apartment hotel’s hallways, lifts, offices and reception.

“We have made the hotel Covid safe.”

The corporate entity managing Quest on Eden will vote this week on whether to proceed with the same ReSPR system at a cost of $500 per apartment.

ReSPR technology, which won a NASA innovation award for American inventor Dr Christophe Suchy, works on water vapor to produce dilute hydrogen peroxide gas, commonly used as a disinfectant in hospitals, to purify air and surfaces.

Australian company Airande distributes ReSPR in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, and chief executive Bill Hovey says that before the pandemic it already existed in Europe and the United States, where it is found on public transport, hotels and stadiums.

Across Tasman it has been installed in gymnasiums, company offices and prisoner transport vehicles, and the newly appointed New Zealand distributor hopes the Department of Education will consider it for schools.

Cleaning the air as well as desks is now a priority as the Department for Education rolls out 5,000 portable cleaning units to schools, but it will take until June before they are all in place.

DAVID UNWIN/Stuff

Cleaning the air as well as desks is now a priority as the Department for Education rolls out 5,000 portable cleaning units to schools, but it will take until June before they are all in place.

The 5,000 Samsung portable units already ordered for classrooms will filter and recycle the air, but the ministry’s website says it is working closely with a technical advisory group to explore air purifiers based on emerging technologies. such as ionizers, ozone generators or photocatalytic oxidizers.

Such systems are not recommended by the New Zealand Indoor Air Quality Research Centre, a group of experts advising the government, as they say some of the substances produced to inactivate the virus may be harmful if they are inhaled (eg ozone).

University of Otago public health expert and center member Dr Julie Bennett has been monitoring some large offices around Wellington, and she says the ventilation is quite good, so investing in air purification systems looking expensive may not be cost effective.

“It comes down to public health measures like the use of masks, vaccinations and other preventative measures, rather than a unit. It might make people safer, but I don’t necessarily think it is.

The Department of Health advises caution when buying systems that claim to reduce the risk of infection or offer protection against Covid-19, and urges companies to seek the advice of a licensed heating, ventilation engineer and air conditioning to ensure appliances are fit for purpose, and seek information from reliable scientific sources.

Pandemic health messaging has included sneezing etiquette in an effort to reduce infection in indoor spaces.

Provided

Pandemic health messaging has included sneezing etiquette in an effort to reduce infection in indoor spaces.

Jacksons Engineering managing director Lance Jimmieson helped design negative pressure systems for Green Lane Hospital during the Sars outbreak in the early 2000s.

He is uneasy about the marketing strategy that is not backed by hard evidence from independent research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, as opposed to research commissioned and paid for by the manufacturers of security systems. air purification.

“There’s snake oil stuff going on for sure.”

On the positive side, he says Covid-19 has put more emphasis on indoor air quality, where before it was mainly about making buildings energy efficient, and he says his consultancy is getting many inquiries.

“It’s driven by staff asking, ‘is this a safe place to be indoors, and what have you done to the air conditioning systems to keep us safe?'”

The problem is that virus particles are microscopic, so some can potentially pass through even high-quality filters, but they can be treated by ultraviolet light, like that used to sterilize water.

“It’s the best technology we’re seeing on the market right now.”

It’s not cheap. “You could easily spend over six figures if you wanted to do it right.”

Air conditioning engineer Lance Jimmieson says that since the pandemic, workers increasingly want to know what is being done to improve the quality of the air they breathe.

Iain McGregor / Stuff

Air conditioning engineer Lance Jimmieson says that since the pandemic, workers increasingly want to know what is being done to improve the quality of the air they breathe.

Jimmieson also warns buyers to carefully check manufacturers’ claims about the size of room a portable air purifier can service, “[it’s] usually a very optimistic number with no data to back up the claims.

He says calculations should be based on room volume, rather than floor space.

The Facilities Management Association has 600 members who handle everything from office buildings and event centers to swimming pools and prisons.

Board chairman Bruce Kenning said he is aware of new technology, but for homeowners with large wallets the cost is high and the focus is on properly maintaining existing air conditioning systems.

Big Blue’s Active Pure units website says they seek out and destroy viruses such as Covid-19, reducing airborne exposure by more than 99.9% in three minutes and doing the same for the surface exposure in seven hours.

The units are endorsed by Auckland Hospital clinical microbiologist Dr Arthur Morris, who was engaged as a consultant by Big Blue to review technical information provided by the manufacturer before it became a distributor.

MIQ facilities have come under scrutiny after people who completed hotel quarantine at the Pullman Hotel tested positive for Covid-19, and the Department of Business Innovation and de l'Emploi spent $350,000 on corrective ventilation work in the MIQ hotels.

Getty Images

MIQ facilities have come under scrutiny after people who completed hotel quarantine at the Pullman Hotel tested positive for Covid-19, and the Department of Business Innovation and de l’Emploi spent $350,000 on corrective ventilation work in the MIQ hotels.

Morris says that although there was no independent peer-reviewed research published in scientific journals, he was satisfied with reports from testing facilities that complied with European and ISO testing standards.

“You have to start from the lab data and, by reasonable logic, anticipate that it would work in a real environment, given that it is working properly and the ventilation is correct.”

He likens the UV process to what happens naturally, when sunlight hits water vapor and turns hydrogen and oxygen molecules into hydrogen peroxide.

“The levels used are not toxic to us, but they are active against viruses and bacteria.”

Morris says that in a place like a classroom, with adequate ventilation, good air circulation, physical distancing and wearing a mask, that may be enough.

“But there are environments where there’s not a lot of airflow, and you have to do something about that.”

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