Tis the Season to be Sneezin
The Holidays are such a joyous time. The weather turns cool, work slows down, and family and good cheer surround us all. For many it is what the whole rest of the year is done in the service of. The iconic symbol of it all is the Christmas Tree, which usually goes up shortly after thanksgiving for a six week stay. Unfortunately, the tree brings problems too. Epidemic peaks of respiratory illness are being observed in the three week period surrounding December 25th. The reasons for this are the aerosolized ragweed and tree pollen coming from the bark of the Christmas Tree, VOCs originating in the sap, and elevated mold spore counts. This seasonal peak has been observed since 1970, but only recently have the dots truly been connected. Root Causes Of Christmas Tree Air Pollution A 2007 study conducted by the Department of Pediatrics at the Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY is what solidified the connection between the observed seasonal illness and presence of the Christmas Tree. The data that first alarmed researchers came from an apartment near the medical school. Mold spore counts rose from 800 spores per cubic meter of air to 5,000 in a two week period. That is a nearly 630% increase. However, simply knowing that there is mold in the air is not enough. People experience allergies to specific strains of mold. So, more detail was needed. Each of the employees of the medical school was asked to bring a clipping from their tree for analysis. The samples were then sent to the Clinical Microbiology lab to use advanced techniques to identify exactly what species of mold were present in the tree. This analysis revealed fifty three separate strains including five which were previously unidentified. This information provides specific information for doctors to present to patients as an explanation for their seasonal symptoms. That way patients can be better informed about how to manage their condition. Pine trees also produce a large volume of allergen. Like other tree species, they generate pollen which is used for reproduction. Allergies to pine tree pollen are actually quite rare. But, for those who do suffer from them it can ruin the holiday season. Breathing in even trace amounts of the pollen can create allergic responses. Pine trees also emit VOCs called terpenes. These compounds are responsible for the characteristic aroma Christmas trees fill homes with. However, NASA scientists have deduced that as temperature increases, the emissions of these VOCs increases. As temperatures drop, most people begin running the heater, which raises indoor temperatures to seventy degrees Fahrenheit or more. This is considerably warmer than the trees natural habitat at this time of year. In nature, the tree would be at temperatures significantly below where the average American keeps their home. This means a lot of VOC in an enclosed space. Many people experience adverse reactions to breathing VOC, and experience allergy like symptoms. In high enough concentrations they can produce long term health risks according to the EPA. Solutions For Keeping The Holidays Happy Preventing the adverse effects of mold spores, pollen, and VOCs requires a very unique approach to air purification. A standard filter will not work because the pores are simply too large for these indoor air quality problems. They will pass through even the best allergen resistant filters uninhibited. What is needed is technology. Ozone generating air purifiers have been around for a long time. Most people are probably familiar with them, or at least know what Ozone is. It is a very reactive form Oxygen which is exhausted into a room. When it contacts bacteria or viruses it eliminates them in a chemical reaction that robs the target of electrons. This is formally called Oxidation. However, Ozone doesn’t discriminate between the good and bad. It will react with anything. This includes upholstery, paint, fixtures, and lung tissue! So, using Ozone will fade prized décor, and has been linked to very serious health problems by the EPA. So, this is not a good solution for use around family during the holidays. Ozone is also illegal to use around people in many locations. PECO is a new technology. It combines the principle of Oxidation, encountered in the description of Ozone with filtration. Instead of exhausting the agent of oxidation into a room as an Ozone generator does, it embeds it into a filter. A metal oxide catalyst is placed within a filter matrix, and activated by an LED light. The chemistry that takes place has been shown to remove dangerous air quality issues. The problem is that as the filter matrix absorbs dust, those metal oxide sites become coated. So, the PECO reactor will lose air purifying efficiency the minute it is turned on. We lack reliable data on how long it takes to become completely ineffective. But, to keep this operating at peak efficiency it would require very frequent changes of both the PECO reactor and anything acting as a pre-filter. This becomes very expensive. The Holidays are a pricy of the year, and there is no cause to break the bank. Also, the LEDs in a PECO reactor can’t be changed. The observed life span of an LED is at best two years. So, the entire PECO device would need to be replaced in that time period. This makes it a very expensive choice indeed. PCO was discovered by two Japanese researchers, and subsequently used by NASA to control VOC emissions aboard the International Space Station.