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Trump CDC Director Robert Redfield joins fans of Big Ass, promoter of controversial COVID destruction technology

Band Christina Jewett and Lauren Weber | KHN

Dr Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has joined Big Ass Fans, lending scientific credibility to a division of the company that claims its ion-generating technology kills the coronavirus. The company charges $ 9,450 for a ventilator with technology that university air quality experts are questioning.

As a strategic health and safety advisor, he follows Dr Deborah Birx, former White House coronavirus response coordinator, in the burgeoning air purification industry. Last month, she signed with ActivePure, a company that also makes a case for virus destruction technology, but markets some devices that violate California’s indoor air quality rules, an investigation finds. by KHN.

Both name recognition to companies selling products that are advertised to do so surer for people to congregate without masks in schools, offices, gyms and retail stores. Companies market 99.9% death rates from the coronavirus.

University indoor air quality experts who criticize some claims about anti-COVID technology say industry-funded studies often focus on the results of tests performed in a space ranging from shoebox to shoebox. a cabinet that does not reflect the conditions in a large room. . Industry-backed studies rarely indicate whether the supposedly “virus-killer” ions or molecules are doing the job, experts say, or whether the improvements come from a fan or filter on a device.

“There’s no other way to say it – there’s no evidence at all that these devices would work in a real environment,” said Timothy Bertram of devices that claim to attack molecules in the air. He is a chemistry professor studying aerosol particles at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Redfield, who led the CDC during the Trump administration’s pandemic response, did not respond to requests for comment before the publication. “Good ventilation has a major role to play in mitigating the transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens,” Redfield said in a press release from Big Ass Fans. “Big Ass Fans is a leader in designing air circulation systems and securing the places where we live, work and play.”

When they give you 99.999%, that’s a red flag for any scientist. We don’t know anything at this point. It’s just crazy.

– Timothy Bertram, professor of chemistry

However, university air quality experts say signatures from top doctors amount to celebrity endorsements.

“I would much rather see good data transparently published than listen to Deborah Birx talk about the quality of this technology when I know she is not an expert in air disinfection,” said William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Penn State studying. indoor air quality and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Outbreak Working Group.

Bertram said he has studied the performance of various ion and hydroxyl release devices in classrooms and found that some emit ozone, a gas associated with the onset or worsening of asthma. Others created other new small particles. When it comes to improving ventilation, none performed as well as a HEPA filter, he said, which together with a MERV-13 filter in a heating system and increased outdoor ventilation, is the standard recommendation. Bertram did not say what specific devices he looked at, but said that will be detailed in a future study.

Big Ass Fans enters the coronavirus air purification market with brand recognition based on its undisputed mega-fans. Its Clean Air System fans are already in use in schools and by companies such as Toyota, Tiffany & Co. and Orangetheory Fitness.

Some Clean Air System fans use UVC light, widely regarded as an effective air cleaning technology. Other fans use bipolar ionization, a technique that the Environmental Protection Agency says is “an emerging technology, and little research is available to evaluate it outside of laboratory conditions,” adding that the evidence for its effectiveness is less documented than the evidence for much more established. choice like air filtration.

Big Ass Fans spokesperson Alex Risen stressed in an interview that his technology was just a layer of protection against the coronavirus. The company, headquartered in Lexington, Ky., Says its technology “combines scientifically proven air purification technologies with powerful airflow solutions. This results in a system that kills 99.99% of pathogens to protect your staff and keep your business thriving. “

The company charges about $ 500 to $ 1,500 more for fans with Clean Air Systems technology.

In the pandemic, federal funding to purchase such devices for schools has skyrocketed, with around $ 193 billion available to date. Democrats in Congress are asking for an additional $ 100 billion. With community pressure to reopen classrooms, school officials have started to invest heavily in air purification technology, though some experts fear the risks may be overlooked.

The EPA has warned of the ability of bipolar ionization to generate ozone and other potentially harmful byproducts inside. A study carried out by the best experts in indoor air quality Building and environment The journal found that another company’s bipolar ionization technology created other byproducts, including toluene, that may have developmental effects after long-term inhalation exposure.

Risen, the spokesperson for Big Ass Fans, stressed that its ionization technology does not emit ozone or other byproducts and does not “put bad things in your lungs.” He said the products did not emit hydrogen peroxide. ActivePure, the air cleaning company Birx has signed up with, makes air purifiers that emit hydrogen peroxide gas, which it says can find and destroy viruses, molds and bacteria, according to the KHN survey.

“We know we don’t produce any negative product,” Risen said. “We know that at the concentrations you are in, you have no negative effects.”

Joe Urso, CEO of ActivePure Technologies, said, “The FDA has cleared a number of devices that emit hydrogen peroxide into ambient air at a safe for people to breathe, including our ActivePure Medical Guardian. ”

Bahnfleth said Big Ass fans have put in more good faith effort with his studies than others in the market. But he added that, without measuring potential gaseous byproducts, the research was not over.

“They are still not doing anything to combat the potential negative effects of exposure to chemical byproducts,” said Brent Stephens, an indoor air quality expert who reviewed reports from Big Ass Fans Clean Air Systems and heads the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stephens added that the controlled test spaces – with no people, furniture or other products that would be in a classroom or office – did not reflect real-world circumstances. And he worried about the “really high” ion count, saying he wouldn’t recommend them for occupied spaces.

Bahnfleth echoed Stephens’ concerns, pointing to a study that showed adverse health effects such as increased levels of oxidative stress – which are linked to cancer and other neurological diseases – for people exposed to a high number of negative ions. Experts said more research is needed because bipolar ionization, like that used by Big Ass fans, produces both positive and negative ions.

Risen defended the safety of the ions in an interview, noting that they occur naturally.

It’s hard to say whether the air-moving fan or bipolar ionization has an impact on the virus in studies provided by Big Ass Fans, said Delphine Farmer, associate professor at Colorado State University, specializing in atmospheric chemistry and interior. Additionally, she said, without real-world testing, it’s unclear what kind of reaction this product might have when exposed to classroom fumes from paint, glue or markers.

“Anything that actually destroys a virus also potentially makes other chemistry,” she said.

Another Clean Air System study claimed a 99.999% reduction in the virus that causes COVID in the air.

“When they give you 99.999%, that’s a red flag for any scientist. We don’t know anything at this point, ”said Bertram. “It’s just crazy.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and surveys, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization with information on health issues across the nation.

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