A Double-Barreled Question Actually Contains Two Questions In One Sentence Ionic Air Purifiers – Safety First

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Ionic Air Purifiers – Safety First

Strange but true. It is very difficult to find well-structured, well-documented scientific research on the technologies behind ionic air purifiers, a multimillion dollar global industry!

Strange because if the science is solidly based, I would expect any manufacturer of ionic air purifiers to trumpet the scientific basis of their brand. I would expect them to explain the efficiency and effectiveness of their unique technology. More than that, I would expect them to strongly assure users that their technology is completely safe, that they can kill germs but are completely harmless to people. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met.

Granted because I have spent countless hours searching for scientific technical papers that support the technologies behind the current ionic air purifiers on the market and yet I have very little to show for it. Intentionally or not, the marketers of ionic air purifiers never bother to put scientific papers on their websites. Where they do, they make no distinction between the safety, efficacy and effectiveness of their specific brands. The scientific references are mentioned only briefly and do not provide enough details for the study of serious prospective buyers of the particular air purifier. It seems the manufacturers didn’t expect anyone to ask and check their products!

Inaccessible Scientific Research

Where I stumble upon relevant scientific research papers on the web, they are not easily accessible because they often come at a prohibitive cost, charged on a per article basis! I believe that if I were an entrepreneur looking to create a new ionic air purifier I would be willing to invest in hundreds and possibly thousands of technical papers that appear on some scientific journal websites. But I’m just looking for a reliable safe product to buy for my personal use!

Unfortunately the scientific world is also commercially driven so that research of great importance is not available for free to all who are interested or need to know.

Logical Criteria

However, even though my head is still spinning from the flood of inconclusive and confusing data on the web, my search for the ideal air purifier continues, according to these criteria:

(1) Safety – the technology of the ionic air purifier should not cause any harm to the body of the users;

(2) Efficacy – the ionic air purifier technology has been tested in the laboratory in real work on the basis of some thorough scientific research;

(3) Effectiveness – the ionic air purifier technology has been successfully transferred from the laboratory to an appliance that will provide the same results in a user setting ie home, office, factory, school etc.

Safety Issues

In this article, I want to concentrate on the safety of ionic air purifiers, something that I believe overrides the other two criteria of effectiveness and efficiency. There is no point in having something that works wonders to eliminate germs but is so powerful that it harms our health. Two important questions need to be answered:

(1) Do the supposedly beneficial active agents in ionic air purifier technologies cause damage to human tissue? Are negative ions, bipolar ions, hydroxyl radicals, Sharp’s patented plasmacluster ions or whatever name they go by, safe?

(2) Do the unintended products of ionic air purifier technologies cause any damage to human tissue? By-products include ozone and nitric oxides which are highly reactive and known to be harmful in high concentrations.

Beneficial Active Agents – Do They Damage Human Tissue?

There is no scientific data available on the web if negative ions, bipolar ions, hydroxyl radicals, plasmacluster ions etc. are safe because they do not harm human tissue. There is a lot of data showing that these active agents effectively eliminate microbes, a topic I will discuss in a later article. Here I am concerned that the purported potential of active agents is equally damaging to fragile human tissue. Why is there a lack of scientific data when consumers spend millions of dollars on ionic air purifiers every year?

After many but fruitless searches on the web, I did the next logical thing – ask the manufacturers of ionic air purifiers! From several questions, the answer slowly became clear – the scientific data is there but the manufacturers do not want to make it public so they don’t incur the wrath of animal welfare groups! Is this fear real or are they hiding some bad truth about their product?

“Animal testing” immediately released the great controversy surrounding the use of animals to test the safety of products for humans. A case in point is that of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a UK research company that conducts safety testing of commercial products, pharmaceuticals and household appliances. To this day, there is a lot of conflict between testing companies and animal welfare groups. It is not surprising that the cloak of secrecy of manufacturers of ionic air purifiers tend to conduct safety tests using the same testing companies.

Documented Animal Testing

A random web search result helped me better understand the animal testing controversy. The safety tests mentioned on the website are related to a liquid product, not directly related to any ionic air purifier technology. The liquid is applied to furniture and other household items. To explain one of the benefits, it is claimed that when the ultra-violet light of sunlight shines on the liquid, hydroxyl radicals and superoxide ions are released into the air thus destroying any microbes such as bacteria , virus and mold that may be present.

To prove that the liquid is harmless to humans, four categories of safety tests were performed on rats, guinea pigs and rabbits (please be warned that you may find the next paragraph unpleasant and you can skip the next paragraph).

They are:

(1) Assessment of acute oral toxicity – the liquid was fed to rats;

(2) Test for primary skin irritation – the liquid was applied to the deliberately scratched skin of rabbits;

(3) Test for skin sensitivity – the liquid is injected under the skin of the guinea pig;

(4) Test for mutagenicity – the liquid is applied to salmonella bacteria to see if it causes mutation in the bacteria’s nuclei to determine if the liquid has the ability to cause cancer.

Animals Unharmed

Pretty fierce and disgusting stuff! I feel this even though reports indicate that the tests were conducted in accordance with the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Chemical Testing. I can start empathizing with the animal welfare camp about that safety testing. Fortunately, for this liquid product, all animals (even salmonella bacteria) were found to be unharmed when using it.

This brief understanding of animal tests explains why manufacturers of ionic air purifiers avoid publishing or even mentioning such tests when they are conducted.

Safety Footnotes

Despite this concern of manufacturers, my web searches revealed footnotes for some brands where they indicated that safety tests were carried out with active agents. When looking for my ionic air purifier, I will look for those footnotes. I would expect that no animal is harmed or the cleaner has no good reason to be in the market for people. I will also ensure that safety testing is carried out by reputable institutions accredited as GLP (Good Laboratory Practice), a set of principles issued by the OECD to recognize organizations that follow strict testing standards in science.

Human Testing

In the final analysis, does this mean that there is absolutely no safety testing for the effects of active agents on people using ionic air purifiers? It’s hard, if you think about it. All users become testers, who unknowingly volunteer by purchasing and using it!

Unfortunately, all we hear on the websites of maufacturers are glowing testimonials of the benefits of the purifier. Such testimonials, though helpful, come under the cloud of cherry picking ie only the positive ones are shown. To be considered as strong scientific evidence that active agents do not harm human tissue, the operation of users of ionic air purifiers must be subject to strict test criteria and parameters in a GLP laboratory .

It appears that this is an issue that will never be resolved properly. The only consolation for me is that many other products on the consumer market are sold in the same way, purely in the good faith of the manufacturers and considered safe until proven otherwise.

Salvation – Second Aspect

In a future article, I will discuss the second aspect of salvation. Besides the active agents, human tissue can also be damaged by the potential products, intentionally or unintentionally, of ionic air purifiers.

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