Purifiers and filters: Air quality experts share tips for taking safety to next level

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There's no denying the entire state is witnessing the effects of California's raging wildfires. Depending on whether your home or office is outfitted with necessary filters or air purifiers, you could also be feeling those effects after breathing in unhealthy air.

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Lingering smoke and orange skies may have kept many people indoors on Wednesday. However, air quality experts explain people can take safety a step further by investing in quality air filters and purifiers, and even designating a room for respiratory relief.

"Having at least one clean room would be kind of a good resource for people to have," Aaron Richardson with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said. "Especially now that we've got this sort of new normal, of wildfire season kicking up pretty badly for the last three or four years."

By clean room, he means an area closed off from contaminants, where residents are able to breathe in healthy air.

If possible, Richardson suggested people invest in non-ozone producing High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA purifiers.

Additionally, people can purchase Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV-13 air filters for your HVAC system.

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As wildfires burn across Northern California, a combination of smoke and haze made for an apocalyptic-like glow across the Bay Area sky on Wednesday, exhausting many who have dealt with both COVID-19 and poor air quality.

"What we're really concerned about, when it comes to the wildfire smoke is the really small, fine particles that you can inhale deeply inside your lungs," he explained. "They bypass all the body's natural defenses and can even enter the bloodstream."

Richardson shared, even though falling ash is unpleasant, "it's not really the main health concern when it comes to wildfire smoke."

Alina Adams, CEO and founder of Artveoli- a Silicon Valley-based biotech startup, focused on improving indoor air quality- pointed out, not all purifiers or filters are equal.

"Make sure that the product that you're about to purchase- because right now, there's a lot of products on the market- that those products not only were tested, but they actually passed the standards. Also, what were those standards?"

She said, when looking to buy something, consumers should definitely do research on the kind of filtration systems.

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Experts warn that smoke from the Creek Fire has engulfed the Valley and it could be days or weeks before we see clear blue skies again.

"A lot of times you see HEPA filters and labels, but there's no one standard that tests all HEPA filters," Adams shared. "There are different types. Some filter at the better quality than others. Look for true HEPA filters. Those typically have the same standard of testing that the DOE uses of 99.7%, some of them 99.9% of the filtration. And they will state sometimes the size of the particles they filter."

At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, staff engineer Congwang Ye is working with Adams on a project to clear air indoors and improve health.

Click here for details on the project that will ultimately "combine CO2-devouring photosynthetic algae and LLNL's carbon capture microcapsules into a flat panel device disguised as a work of digital or printed art."

Their on-going effort has been made more challenging by both COVID-19 and the California wildfires.

"The air quality is going to be a very repeating problem that we come across all the time," Ye said. "Whether it's wildfire or virus running around, we need to have a solution to tackle that."

Ye added, "As residents of California, we are very unfortunate to have to face these challenges. What I hope is that we will be able to push this out faster, so that we can really get that into people's hands and to help."

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Separately, Richardson shared, "The masks that you really do need to wear for social distancing during the pandemic are not going to give you a lot of protection for air quality."

When it comes to COVID-19, Adams explained the goal is to increase ventilation by bringing in outside air to dilute the air indoors.

However, to combat smoke, the recommendation is to stay indoors, shut windows and to prevent outside air from coming in.

"It's a double edged problem that we're currently faced with, and they're slightly a bit contradictory recommendations of what should we do," Adams added. "Should we increase the circulation rates, or should we close doors and windows and put the internal circulation for in house?"

Her advice is to go back to basics when disinfecting indoors.

"Simple things: baking soda, vinegar- just going back to basics and minimizing indoor exposure to the contaminants. Because otherwise, if you generate contaminants, you have to ventilate. You open the door, you bring in the chemicals, you bring the particulate matter in," Adams said.

"That way, hopefully, you can protect yourself from the outside pollutants, but at the same time not generate inside air contaminants," she added. "Because there's both contaminants from the outside and from the inside."

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