ActivePure Technology Air Purifiers

April 1st, 2021

With billions of dollars in federal money earmarked for education as part of the latest COVID-19 relief bill, air purification companies are targeting school officials tasked with assuring parents and teachers that it is safe to return to the classroom.

Included in this group is ActivePure Technology, for which former White House COVID-19 response team member Deborah Birx now serves as chief medical and science advisor.

On an Education page on its website, the company states it recently received a letter from a K-8 principal who reports that “staff members’ morale is high, as they perceive ActivePure Technology’s Air Scrubbers to be ‘doing their job’ keeping us safe. We have been fully in-person since August 20, 2020 with virtually no interruption, with a total of 10 positive COVID cases among our students and staff, and zero known transmissions in school.”

On a COVID page, ActivePure Technology claims its air purifiers have been scientifically proven to kill 99.9% of airborne coronavirus within three minutes.

But what school officials need to know is that this high efficiency rate reflects results from lab studies, not real-world studies. Conduct the same study in a classroom, which is a less controlled environment but the environment where the air purifier is intended to be used, and the results could change.

In fact, according to the CDC, compared to other air cleaning or disinfection methods, these kinds of air purifiers and similar technologies “have a less-documented track record when it comes to cleaning/disinfecting large and fast volumes of moving air within heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems or even inside individual rooms,” such as classrooms. The agency says:

[I]n the absence of an established body of peer-reviewed evidence showing proven efficacy and safety under as-used conditions, the technologies are still considered by many to be “emerging.”

The COVID page on the company’s website also contains the following disclaimer: “These results have not been cleared by the FDA, but are the subject of filings with the FDA for clearance.” But all FDA clearance means is that one of the company’s air purifiers is “substantially equivalent” to another product that the FDA has already given clearance. It’s not that impressive.

There’s another issue. Despite claims on the COVID page that the air purifiers emit “no chemicals or ozone,” ActivePure Technology CEO Joe Urso acknowledged in a recent interview with Kaiser Health News that some of the company’s air purifiers actually do emit ozone, which can damage the lungs and worsen symptoms of asthma when inhaled.

The main emission is “gaseous hydrogen peroxide,” which, according to the company, along with other molecules seek out and destroy viruses, mold and bacteria.

“I have a great technology that is truthful and it does what I say it does,” Urso told KHN.

The CDC recommends some simple, safe ways to improve air quality, including opening windows, running fans and using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

Find more of our coverage on the coronavirus here.

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