Air purifiers remove allergens, fungi, volatile organic compounds, some gases and other particles from the air within the space of the purifier’s operation. After filtering the air and removing dust, debris, and particles, the cleaned air is circulated back into the household environment or other space by the air purifier. A good purifier will remove at least 95 percent of all mold, bacteria, viruses, dust and other particles from the air around it. Although purifiers do not remove odors or chemicals on their own, they can do so with addition of activated carbon based material in the form of a thin mat or up to several pounds of carbon, depending upon the type of purifier and its available options. Many households rely upon air purifiers to remove contaminants which cause severe allergies, asthma, and other health vulnerabilities. Purifiers can greatly reduce and even eliminate second-hand tobacco smoke.
Air Purifier Defects
Air purifiers are considered to have great health benefits, but they also present risk. Some undesirable defects and hazards caused by air purifiers are:
- Hazardous, gaseous by-products – Some air purifiers produce ozone, a gas that is toxic to humans and animals
- Noise production – Hearing loss is possible if high-decibel producing air purifiers, or those with long-running fans are operated in living spaces.
- Energy consumption – Air purifiers run on electricity
- Fire and electric shock risk – Faulty design and manufacturing or defective wiring and components pose serious fire and shock risk
- Sharp edges – produce skin lacerations
- Heating – produce contact burns
Ozone-producing air purifiers are of particular concern, as ozone presents the following health and general risks :
- Decreases in lung function
- Aggravation of asthma
- Throat irritation and cough
- Chest pain and shortness of breath
- Inflammation of lung tissue
- Higher susceptibility to respiratory infection
Air Purifier Recalls
Some examples of air purifiers recalled in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to documented injury, household property damage, or extreme potential for such risk through standard use by consumers are:
- Six Thane International “Perfect Air Ultra” air purifiers caught fire or melted in 2005 due to an overheating capacitor which caused arcing in a connecting wire. While no injuries or deaths were directly related to these incidences, property damage was documented.
- 10 P3 International air purifiers caught fire and damaged property in 2007 due to air cartridge overheating.
Some examples of air purifier general failures are:
- In 2009, a Port Aurthur, Texas man filed a $226,000 lawsuit against Sunbeam, seeking damages for the 2007 destruction of his home due to a fire started by his Sunbeam air purifier.
- In 2008 a Great Barrington, Mass., maternity ward of a local hospital was evacuated due to smoke from a malfunctioning bearing in an air purifier.
- In England in 2008, the Cutty Sark – a 140-year-old ship undergoing millions of dollars worth of reconstruction – was completely destroyed when a dust extracting air purifier sparked a blaze.
In the U.S., 85.6 million air purifiers, humidifiers and vaporizers are in operation, making those products present in at least 40 percent of households. The average life expectancy of an air purifier is about five to 11 years.
In 2002, the Consumer Product Safety Commission attributed 1,500 emergency room injuries to air purifiers, humidifiers, and vaporizers, with six percent of those patients hospitalized. One death occurred and 3,320 non-emergency injuries were also reported. According to these statistics, the medical injury cost for these appliances each year is about $96.1 million, with deaths costing the U.S. about $5 million per year.
For the year 2005, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System documented four emergency room visits related to air purifiers. Two 2 year olds and a 3-year-old suffered facial lacerations due to running into the units, while a 17-year-old plugged in an air purifier in a thrift store and suffered a lower leg injury when the unit exploded.
For 2006, the NEISS reported three injuries, including a head laceration to a 6-month-old infant and contusions to two adults who tripped into or over their air purifiers. In 2007, there were also three injuries reported through the NEISS, with all being due to trip and fall injuries. One involved a toddler and the other two were cases were older adults.