Deadly Airborne Pollutants in Hospitals

Contrary to popular belief, health care facilities may not be epitome of cleanliness. In addition to viruses and bacteria, pollutants such as aerosols, ab…

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stressed the importance of evaluating medical facilities for atmospheric contaminants in an effort to ensure the safety of both healthcare workers and patients.

Like homes and commercial buildings, hospitals and other medical facilities have also been built to be more air-tight in order to conserve energy. Because of these energy-saving efforts, air flow rate is decreased, causing an increase in airborne contaminants and even air stagnation. Poor air quality in medical facilities not only affects medical staff, but it is also detrimental to patients, especially those in the postoperative setting where contaminant-free air is absolutely imperative.

Although central air purification systems exist in most operating rooms, patient rooms, waiting rooms, and the general hospital environment is still highly susceptible to airborne biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, and microorganisms. Even in operating rooms, debris such as paper fibers from clothing can clog medical instruments and contaminate the air. In addition, drill aerosols, abrasion powder, and mercury vapors are common pollutants released in the air during dental procedures. Poor air quality in medical environments can foster virus infections such as staphylococci, which can cause complications during patient rehabilitation.

For example, from November 2002 to July 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was a major pandemic that affected several Asian countries. This widespread respiratory disease highlighted the vulnerability of modern healthcare facilities against infectious diseases and infections. Patient-to-healthcare work interactions and the close proximity of infected patients greatly amplified transmission of SARS within hospitals.

The above referenced situation is just one example of how air quality in medical environments is crucial, and medical-grade air purifiers can both enhance air quality and reduce the amount of harmful airborne pollutants that could cause infections and complications. In the medical setting, air purifiers using HEPA technology are excellent at improving air quality because they filter out 99.97% of particulates larger than 0.3 microns. In addition, these types of air purifiers do not emit ozone, which, after prolonged exposure, can be harmful to both patients and staff. In fact, shortly after the September 11th attacks, the CDC endorsed the use of HEPA filtration in post offices to address the increased risk of Anthrax. As well, the CDC also recommends the simultaneous use of HEPA filtration along with UV technology as the final defense against these diseases. Purifiers utilizing UV light are also important in the medical setting, as they possess enough energy to break molecular bonds, causing genetic and cellular damage to microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and germs, and rendering them harmless.

Because the quality of indoor air impacts the health of both patients and medical staff, medical-grade air purifiers may be able to supplement and improve on existing air purification systems in the medical setting.