With wildfires raging in many parts of the western U.S. and with smoke from the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest flowing down into California’s central San Joaquin Valley darkening skies, turning sun-ups and sunsets red and impacting health including mine, I can’t help but be reminded of just how important clean air is to life. I have never seen conditions this bad and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for those who find it necessary to flee from their homes or for those trapped by the flames never knowing from one moment to the next whether or not they’ll be rescued, let alone all that the front-lines firefighters and other first responders are having to deal with.
In that said smoke has settled into the Valley and for many in turning on air conditioning systems results in that smoke coming indoors, it not only is unpleasant to breathe in but for many with pre-existing conditions such can cause discomfort, asthma flare-ups, post-nasal drip, headaches or worse, force emergency department visits.
Woodsmoke contains in it some pretty nasty stuff: toxic substances and fine particulates among them. Also known as PM 2.5 or particles less than 2.5 micrometers thick are so minute that to equal the diameter or width of the average human hair, would necessitate placing 20 to 30 of these side by side. PM 2.5 is known to produce negative health impacts in humans when inhaled, that manifesting itself in form of respiratory, cardiovascular, circulatory and digestive system damage in addition to such having been found to affect cognitive brain function as well as lead to premature death.
Inspiration but a healthy breath away
So when I learned a few years back of a trial being conducted in the Los Angeles region whereby school buses were equipped with what then was referred to as a HECA or High Efficiency Cabin Air filtration system and the findings from those tests, I could not have been more enthused.
Just some of what I wrote in “HECA: Taking school-bus-interior air-cleaning to whole new level” in Mar. 2015.
“When it comes to mobile air-filtration technology in the school-bus operating environment, HECA could be the next big breakthrough. HECA is up to 88 percent effective when it comes to reducing exposure to pollutants in the air inside school buses, so says Kim Irwin in ‘On-board school bus filtration system reduces pollutants by 88 percent: UCLA-developed technology would protect children from harmful exposure,’ a Mar. 2, 2015 University of California, Los Angeles news release.”
“HECA being the acronym for ‘High Efficiency Cabin Air,’ the ‘system could help protect the 25 million American children who commute on school buses nearly every day. Children are more susceptible to air pollution than adults because they breathe more quickly and their immune and cardiovascular systems are still developing, said Yifang Zhu, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the department of environmental health sciences.’”
“In all, six school buses were tested sans students on board, under idling conditions, and in operating under conditions in which both freeway and major-arterial roadway driving was done – all in Los Angeles. Air was tested for ‘vehicle-emitted particulate matter, including black carbon and fine and ultrafine particles, down to a few nanometers in size,’ inside as well as outside the school buses under test, Irwin reported.
“Developed by study researchers was a prototype HECA filtering system specially designed for inside-the-school-bus cabin use and not one but two were placed at the back of each of the half-dozen school buses under evaluation. ‘Air was drawn in through diffusers on the sides of each unit and fed through the HECA filter,’ Irwin wrote. ‘The filtered air was then delivered at a constant rate through air ducts.’”
Now imagine the implications especially in the age of COVID-19.
It’s not always what’s under the hood that counts obviously
So, carrying this idea farther is the logical next step.
And, by that I mean, what about similar devices designed specifically for car, SUV and truck cabin interiors, commercial establishments, buildings of every imaginable sort including medical facilities, academic institutions, residences, transportation-based gathering spots like train and bus stations, airports, seaports and the like.
No doubt if thoroughly developed and tested, commercialized and universally adopted and applied, the sky would literally be the limit in terms of how far filtration on this order could figuratively fly: Far, far-reaching, in other words.
To repeat – The sky’s the limit here folks!
Images: David Rees, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, held and cataloged by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (middle); StuporesMundi at Italian Wikipedia (lower)
– Alan Kandel