September 16, 2015

With the haze (read: smog) the nation has been trapped under this week and the resultant coughing and sneezing that many have fallen victim to, you might be tempted to buy an ionizer to neutralise all the nasty bacteria floating around your living and working environments. BUT WAIT – turns out ionizers are not as beneficial for the health as we previously thought. Ionizers are basically devices that generate negatively-charged air particles, which can reduce airborne bacterial infections. But according to the experts, they actually produce ozone as a by-product and hence are detrimental to the health. Talk about being counter-productive. Here, the experts explain just why ionizers are bad for you:   They produce ozone, which irritates the lungs.

“In general, ionizers require charged electrical surfaces to generate electrically charged air and ions. The greater the charge on these surfaces, the more ions will be created. This process would, in turn, produce ozone as a by-product through the charging process.

This applies to all portable indoor air purifiers with ionization feature. Ion generators and ozone generators type of filters both emit ozone which is a lung irritant that is harmful towards people with asthma, children and elderly.”

– Dr. Ang Keng Been, President, Indoor Air Quality Society Singapore   Ozone has multiple detrimental effects on the health.

“Ozone is a strong oxidizing agent which is good for odor control, as it is able to react with chemical contaminants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). However, in high amounts, ozone is bad for our health – it can potentially decrease lung function, aggravate asthma and irritate throats.”

– Mr. Cheng Ming Chin, Senior Lecturer and Section Head of the Diploma in Green Building & Sustainability, Temasek Polytechnic   Use air purifiers instead.

“Air purifiers with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filter is recommended as it required for filtering the small harmful particles in the air. A HEPA filter within air purifiers tackles mould, dust mite spores, pollen and microscopic particles of dust from the air.

What is also important is an activated carbon filter to remove indoor gaseous pollutants such as formaldehyde and other VOCs which are harmful and some found to be cancer-causing. Cooking smells and foul odours can also be removed with the help of the Activated Carbon filters, improving your health and also your living environment.

Do also ensure that your purifier is 100% Ozone Free. Ozone could either be deliberately generated, or a by-product created through the process of ionizing. However, high concentrations of ozone can cause lung inflammation and trigger asthma.”

– Dr. Ang   There are other practical ways to improve the quality of indoor air.

“Under circumstances (of haze), windows should be closed to minimise the infiltration of the contaminated outdoor air.

During home renovation, the selection of building materials and furnishings is crucial. For example, opt for low-VOC or zero-VOC paint over normal paint, and solid wood furniture over furniture made using particleboard. When buying household products, always be conscious of their impact on indoor air quality and opt for low-emitting products that have been third-party certified and labelled by reputable organisations.

Avoid smoking indoors; if there are smokers in the family, he or she should smoke outdoors. Clean the house, clear rubbish and wash pillows, sheets and comforters on a regular basis.”

– Mr. Cheng  

There is existing legislation that the authorities have put in place to ensure indoor air quality in Singapore is of a good level, such as the National Environmental Agency’s (NEA) Public Health Act, and the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Workplace Safety and Health Act. If you want to know whether the building you’re in is good for your health, you can look out for whether it’s been given the Building and Construction Authority Green Mark certification, which shows that the building has met minimum requirements for ventilation rate, thermal comfort, filtration media and air tightness, and was built without Low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints and furnished with low-emitting materials that generate minimum pollutants.

Credits to the team at Philips Singapore for bringing this to our attention!