Air filters can improve quality of air, quality of life

Sunday, October 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

When Lindsey Suntrup, an MU junior plagued by 39 allergies, found herself in the heartland of allergens, she frantically searched the Internet for some relief.

Suntrup, a 20-year-old from St. Louis, said she has difficulty enjoying fall in mid-Missouri because of its high weed pollen index. Kansas City and St. Louis are among the top six worst U.S. cities for allergies, according to a study by Sperling’s BestPlaces, a research firm that analyzes quality-of-life data.

“I get horrible headaches every day,” said Suntrup, who has suffered lifelong allergies. “The first day I got the HEPA filter, I could tell a difference.”

Suntrup found the high-efficiency air filter on the Web and recently purchased a portable one for her apartment.

She has yet to turn it off. Her headaches are gone. And her only complaint is the noise it creates.

“It just sounds like a small fan,”Suntrup said. “I am just happy I no longer feel miserable. This is for sure a permanent addition to my lifestyle.”

The Allergy and Asthma Consultants of the Ozarks, a Columbia group that specializes in respiratory conditions, also recommends HEPA — or high-efficiency particulate air — filters for people with breathing problems.

“Anything to decrease their exposures to a specific allergen is beneficial,” said Marcy Markus, a nurse at the consulting firm. “Patients seem to do better after using the HEPA filters.”

Local businesses are finding that customers also appreciate cleaner air away from home.

The Martini Bar, which opened in the spring, boasts two HEPA filtration systems and prominently mentions the filters in its advertisements. Owner David Campbell said each system cost around $2,000 to install.

“You can just visibly tell the difference inside the club,” Campbell said. “During a vocal performance, there is no smoky haze. Customers have even told me their clothes don’t smell of smoke when they leave.”

Indoor air quality has declined in the past 10 years, said Jim Reed, owner of Reed Heating.

“New homes are much more tightly constructed to save money on heating and cooling,” Reed said. “Since it only contains the air in the house, many pollutants stay in the house and a much better filtration system is needed.”

Reed suggests residents use a 5-inch-thick filter but says permanent HEPA filters are efficient — although costly.

“I can see it easily taking $1,000 to $2,000 to install the unit and, depending on the brand, $125 to $140 every three to six months for replacement filters,” Reed said.

Those who can’t afford to filter their entire home can turn to portable purifiers. These air filters provide a smoke- and allergen-free environment and can improve overall air quality.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Americans are indoors 90 percent of the time, on average. With indoor air quality ranking as one of the top five public-health risks, studies show indoor pollutants are at levels two to five times greater than the air outdoors.

With an abundance of personal air purifiers on the market, the most popular choices contain HEPA filters or ion generators. HEPA filters are used in many industrial, medical and military settings. The tightly woven filter removes 99.97 percent of particles in the air, according to its manufacturer, eliminating everything from mold spores to dust mites.

Ion generators produce negative ions that attach to indoor air particles, creating a negative charge. The particles then attach to any positively charged area, such as walls or furnishings.

The main difference between the systems is that HEPA filters are replaced at least once a year. Many HEPA purifiers contain carbon filters that are less expensive but need replacement just as often.

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