Air purifiers should be more commonplace

With wildfires on the horizon, air quality concerns should be high

A white air purifier on the floor.
PHOTO: 220 Selfmade studio / Adobe Stock

By: Yasmin Hassan, Staff Writer

Every year, summers in BC get hotter and hotter. Remember the heat dome back in 2021 and its aftermath? Events like these are only expected to worsen with the steady warming of global temperatures. Recently, the government has been putting more emphasis on preparedness for expected extreme heat conditions, which includes providing free portable air conditioners for low-income households. Temperature is important, but what about air quality? I know I’m not the only one who can smell the smog that comes from the summer wildfires, even when they’re not nearby. And it’s not just the smell that’s bothersome — wildfire smoke can impact air quality thousands of kilometres away from the source. Air purifiers are one of the easiest ways to improve indoor air quality, and they should be made more accessible. 

Prolonged exposure to harmful airborne pollutants, allergens, and particulate matter has been found to pose health risks. This is especially true for people who are already at risk of health complications, including disabled people, elderly people, and low-income folks. The US Environmental Protection Agency states that wildfire smoke can cause “eye and respiratory tract irritation” as well as “reduced lung function, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death.” Low-income communities also face higher risks of health issues due to poor building infrastructure and limited healthcare access. Since the smoke isn’t going anywhere, neither are its consequences. 

What can be done to help? Air purifiers are one of the better ways to reduce adverse health effects from poor air quality. Purifiers draw the air in a room through a filter and circulate it back out, trapping irritants. One study found that a test group of adults with asthma had improved health outcomes with air purifiers as opposed to the control group that received no filter. Air purifiers have also become more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Poor air ventilation is a common issue in public spaces, with schools being a major concern in BC. With the continuing risk of Long COVID that disproportionately impacts vulnerable groups, air purifiers should be valued as essential devices. They add a necessary layer of protection against pathogens and contaminants, and should be used as annual wildfires grow in size and frequency.

Since the smoke isn’t going anywhere, neither are its consequences. 

Purifiers usually come in three forms: filtered air, electrostatic, and UV light purifiers. There are generally seven kinds of filters, but the most common are high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. HEPA filters can “theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns.” One study found HEPA filters decrease particulate matter content by 29–53% in the presence of an external source (smoke). They’ve also been found to work well in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 bioaerosols as long as they’re able to filter particles ranging from 0.1–1 microns. Be sure to check the rating of your HEPA filter before purchase, and opt for a higher grade like H13 or 14.

The main problem is that air purifiers aren’t cheap, often costing at least $200 for a high quality one. Filters also need to be replaced at least once a year, and can be pricey at up to $50 each. They’re also typically only strong enough for single rooms, so you’ll need multiple if you want to filter every room in your home. Many people can’t afford this equipment, which can lead to health complications. Having air purifiers in public spaces and people’s homes would greatly reduce the risk of exposure to airborne illnesses and pollutants, including smog from summer wildfires. While it’s amazing that BC is providing low-income folks with air conditioners, they should consider doing the same with air purifiers — especially for those most at risk.

Air purifiers are important for those who are vulnerable, but their use helps everyone. The government should subsidize those bad boys, listen to climate consultants, and offer more education on air quality — especially if it concerns our health! While Dr. Bonnie Henry called on us to “stay alert” and educate ourselves about weather conditions, health information regarding climate change should be readily available rather than seen as a self-study option. We should value our respiratory health as much as we value cool temperatures in the summer. Air purifiers are proven to work, and should become a staple in our societies.

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