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April 23, 2012 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Are air purifiers from Amway safe to use?

Just found out yesterday (from an askmefi thread, no less) that the sharper image ionic air purifiers that we've had in our house for years have been producing dangerous levels of ozone. Freaked out and unplugged all of them. We are getting rid of them next week.

So I told my mom we should buy replacement air purifiers. My mom then revealed another disturbing piece of information: she's an Amway member. She says she doesn't sell, but that she can get an Amway air purifier at a discount and that all her friends have them, so it must be the best one ever made on earth.

From my research, I read that the only safe ones to use are HEPA purifiers. This is the Amway air purifier description: "The ATMOSPHERE Air Purifier offers state-of-the-art air purification technology that features three pre-installed filters: a cleanable pre-filter, a replaceable carbon (odor) filter,* and a replaceable HEPA (particulate) filter."

It says it has the HEPA, but it's got carbon, too? What is that, and is that safe? I know nothing about filters.

I've also been looking on Amazon, and there are some HEPA air purifiers that go for as low as $50. I'm just wondering, has anyone ever used one of those? Are those even useful?

I think my mom wants to get one Amway air purifier for the entire house, and I might want to get one just for my room. Or would getting one for my room be unnecessary if there's one for the whole house?

Basically: what air purifier would you recommend? And do people generally have smaller ones in different rooms or one giant one or both? We don't smoke, have pets, or have terrible allergies. My room, personally, does not get vacuumed as it often as it probably should.

Thank you in advance! This has been quite an unsettling revelation; I don't know how I have been completely out of the loop about this for so long... we've had these ionic air purifiers in our house for at least 8 years. Oh also, is this something we should get checked out at the doctor's about? There've been no noticeable ill effects, but better safe than sorry? I have a tendency to be overly paranoid about health issues though.
posted by shipsthatburn to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
Are there smokers in the house, or pet dander? Are there allergy issues among family members? I ask because you seem to think air "purifiers" are a must, although I could be reading you wrong.
In my experience, these machines don't accomplish anything that a partially open window doesn't.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:31 PM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Why don't you consider forgoing air purifiers entirely as they have yet to demonstrate any beneficial health effects beyond anecdotes. They (including HEPA filters) have been studied even in asthmatics, and not been found to be particularly helpful in any way.

I am a pulmonologist for what it is worth.
posted by drpynchon at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

No, you do not need to go to the doctor to be "checked out" because you were exposed to ozone by ozone generators that were sold as air purifiers. (Are you seeing someone about your anxiety, though? Because you seem to be really, really worried about getting poisoned by ordinary things in your environment.)

Carbon filters are perfectly standard in air purifiers. Carbon is a perfectly safe filter substance. The Amway air purifer is not an ozone generator; it's a standard air purifier/filter.

Smaller ones in different rooms are more effective; if you have central air/heating, the filters on that system should be changed and cleaned regularly, but additional air purifiers shouldn't be necessary.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree with drpynchon that the professional wisdom is that "air purifiers" aren't necessary or particularly useful; my allergist thinks they're a total ripoff. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation is a bit more pro-purifier, but even so it doesn't sound like you need them.

If your parents want to use them for other reasons, you shouldn't worry about your exposure to them now that you've stopped using the ozone generators.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on April 23, 2012

Here are a bunch of links to solid information that you can consider.

EPA's publication about Ozone-Generating "Air Purifiers", with good explanations. (explains that ozone-generating ones are bad)

Here is the EPA Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home. (covers all kinds, not just ozone-generating ones)

Here is a listing of air purifiers that meet California's standards for low or no ozone emissions.

Finally: EPA's summary of existing information on residential air cleaners - key quote:
"There are no studies linking the use of gas-phase filtration, UVGI systems, or PCO systems in homes to reduced health symptoms in sensitive populations. ...The best way to address residential indoor air pollution usually is to control or eliminate the source of the pollutants and to ventilate the home with clean outdoor air."
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2012

If it helps put your mind at rest, consider these facts:
  • The minimum level of exposure to ozone for detectable health effects is considered to be around 0.03~0.04ppm (parts per million).
  • Exposure to levels greater than ~0.06ppm for 8 hours / day is considered "unhealthy for at-risk groups".
  • The human nose can easily smell ozone at a fraction of that - the detection threshold is usually considered to be 0.01ppm.
  • For comparison, a tropical storm along the coast will temporarily increase the ozone concentration in the lower atmosphere to 0.015~0.03ppm. Fresh, "unpolluted", air in the developed world contains ozone at about 0.0075~0.01ppm.
  • There's lots of woo on the web about ozone being a poison at <1ppb (that's parts per billion - i.e. <0.001ppm), but it's just that - scary, ill-informed woo. If it were true, we'd all be poisoned by it every single day in our miserable and mercifully short lives.
If you couldn't smell it every time you walked back into the house (and it's obvious - it has quite an acrid 'metallic' smell; think photocopier or laser printer), it's quite unlikely that your air purifiers generated any significant ozone.
posted by Pinback at 8:35 PM on April 23, 2012

Thank you everyone! I'll let my mom get the amway one if she wants, but I won't bother getting one.
posted by shipsthatburn at 11:43 PM on April 23, 2012

If you couldn't smell it every time you walked back into the house (and it's obvious - it has quite an acrid 'metallic' smell; think photocopier or laser printer)

I suspect that would be at higher concentrations. My impression that when many people smell ozone from say an air purifier, it smells like the unit is emitting fresh air; the smell of the breeze from a summer storm.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:20 AM on April 24, 2012

Perhaps I should have said "sharp" rather than "acrid" - at low concentrations it's still got that 'bitey', metallic-ish smell, although it definitely smells sweeter than at higher concentrations.

YMMV, though; I personally find the typically-quoted "breeze after the storm" and "fresh-mown clover" also smell quite metallic, though not unpleasant.
posted by Pinback at 1:08 AM on April 24, 2012

If you are interested in improving your air quality, add more plants to your area, especially plants from this list.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:50 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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