“Experts” in the field of air purification are very few and most of them (including the one writing this article) have businesses where they sell air purifiers, so no fault of the consumer if they think that there is a vested interest at play! But sometimes, one must take a leap of faith or better still, look at the credentials of the so-called “expert” and then follow their advice.
Some credentials of mine….
When it comes to the health of our loved ones, we often want to get the “BEST”. The air pollution “season” always brings the conversation of air purifiers to the front and often we end up asking friends/relatives or even strangers on social media for recommendations. And many people end up valuing those recommendations instead of doing their own research and truly understanding the science.
And large “marketing” companies like Philips, SHARP, Dyson, MI, etc. spend huge amounts of marketing dollars to put out full-page ads and give away FREE products to get eyeballs and the consumer is left to think that they are the “BEST”. Unfortunately, there is NOTHING further from the truth.
Most of these products are either BELOW average or average at best but just because my neighbor “Mr Sharma” has purchased one of these, it is now the best – Mr Sharma wants validation that his purchase decision was right – and so will convince everyone he knows that what he has purchased is the “BEST” because if the other person then buys the same, he will feel that his decision was correct! There has to be a name for this phenomenon in the marketing world…(someone please help me)!!
Back in 2013-2015, when there were very few companies in India selling air purifiers, we tested 28 different models of air purifiers for all their abilities and found that the SHARP machine was one of the better ones from the ones available. It removed the PM2.5 particles in a space fairly quickly and that was important. See this video that we had developed back then (still relevant I think).
Then, one day, I was invited by a German couple to their home to test the air in their Jor Bagh apartment. I reach there with my fancy DustTrak in hand (a machine that measures PM levels in the air – at the time low-cost consumer-grade sensors were not available and we used scientific-grade equipment for our testing (that cost thousands of dollars). And what I saw completely blew me away! For the first time, I saw a reading of ZERO on the DustTrak during the winters of Delhi. Up until then, I was used to seeing readings ranging from 20-200 with an air purifier running and even higher without an air purifier. The couple had brought with them their air purifiers from Germany when they moved to Delhi as they had just “heard” about the Delhi air being poor and did not want to take a chance. Once they set up their machines, they wanted to know if the air quality in their home was acceptable or if they needed to take further measures.
The machine they had brought was IQAir – from Switzerland. I was very excited and immediately set out to research the company and its products. After much research, I found that they did not have a distributor in Delhi and I wrote to them in Switzerland. I got a short one-line answer saying that they were not interested! This was obviously something that did not go down well with me – how can they just say no without even understanding our capabilities? And I kept persisting.
Finally, we hired a Swiss consultant who sweet-talked his way into the office of IQAir just outside Zurich and was able to set up a meeting with the owners and me. I was off to Zurich on the next flight! The meeting between the owners (the duo of Jens Hammes and Frank Hammes – brothers and third-generation family-owned business owners of IQAir) went well. Within a couple of hours, they understood that we were NOT just a “marketing” company or any fly-by-night operation.
We were serious about air pollution and wanted to do the right thing. We had distribution for IQAir products for all of India. During the meeting, I saw their facilities and factories (all company-owned in Switzerland and not some outsourced shop in China) and was extremely impressed. The Swiss truly know the meaning of quality. One other “thing” caught my attention – a small flexible duct connected to one of the IQAir air purifiers and a small grill.
[Background – the problem of PM2.5 – very small and fine particles of matter – was known and understood. But the problem of CO2 – carbon dioxide – was not known so well. We all breathe in Oxygen and breathe out CO2. In a bedroom, when 2 people are asleep and the windows and doors are closed – AC on or off – we breathe in the oxygen in the room and exhale CO2. The CO2 concentration goes up. Acceptable CO2 indoors as per standards is between 400 and 800 parts per million (ppm). I had found CO2 levels in my bedroom to be at 2800 ppm by early morning hours. Air purifiers were only known to reduce the PM levels. They did NOTHING to the CO2 levels in the room. I was struggling with this problem for a long time. Natural plants are known to reduce CO2 and we also found night plants that give out O2 at night and release CO2 in the day (opposite of what most plants do). However, I would need a jungle in my small room to even bring the CO2 down from 2800 ppm to 2400 ppm. With 12 waist-high plants in the small room, there was no space for us to walk in the room. And 2400 ppm of CO2 was still not enough. We wake up feeling tired and lethargic because we have not got a good nights sleep – this is largely due to the high levels of CO2 we are breathing all night long. I really wanted a solution to fix this problem of CO2]
So when I saw this flexible duct in the IQAir office, connecting to the corridor, I was curious. I asked Jens what that was about. He explained to me that this was for specialized applications where one needs positive or negative pressurisation in a room – for example, to set up an isolation room for a COVID patient – one would create a negative air pressure in the room so no one outside the room would get infected. I immediately started to think – if I installed this to bring in “fresh outdoor air” and then the machine would filter out all the pollutants found in Delhi’s air like PM and some other gases, then I would be able to dilute the CO2 levels in the room and bring the PM levels down. (Outdoor CO2 levels are at about 400ppm). I was excited with this line of thought. I could not wait for our first container order from IQAir to reach India for me to try this in my home.
As soon as the container arrived, I took a machine and the accessory kit of ducting home and got the system installed in a couple of hours. I kept the machine running in my bedroom at night and the results were more than AMAZING. The PM levels in my room were down to ZERO. And the CO2 was down to a magical 600-650ppm. We started waking up without an alarm. We felt fresh and alert and awake when we did wake up. This was a new normal and I would not give this up for anything. The only question was – how long will the filters last with Delhi’s winter pollution?
The filters on an IQAir machine are not cheap. I was worried that the outside air in Delhi is so polluted that this solution – pulling in air from the outside, would choke the filters overnight or within a few weeks at most. This would just not be feasible as no one wants to spend huge amounts of money on changing filters every week! So I decided to not talk about this to anyone until I was convinced of the financial viability myself! I would check the filters every week and was amazed to see what I did.
There are 4 filters on this machine (3 standard and one extra coarse dust filter). The coarse dust filter was washed and put back after 2 months and lasted over a year. The next filter (F8) lasted one year. The V5 carbon filter for gases was good even after 1 year and the last HyperHEPA filter was only about a third done in 1 year.
This was unbelievable. I had a solution that was viable! For a monthly cost of less than one dinner out for 2 (about Rs2400 per month), the filters would be viable. Still expensive – but given what it was giving us in terms of health outcomes, it was a no-brainer. I started talking about this solution and marketing it.
The IQAir machines are made in a 95% women-run factory in Switzerland and have been a saviour for my family as we live in the world’s most polluted capital. My now 12 year old son Krish, suffered from nose bleeds and borderline asthma when he was younger and magically, after the IQAir machines, the nose bleeds have reduced by about 99%. My wife would have a chronic cough EVERY winter in Delhi after we returned from our stay in the US for 10 years. Thanks to the IQAir, the chronic cough has not shown up in the last 5 years.
The WHO has recently given revised guidelines for exposure to PM2.5. They have reduced the exposure levels from 10 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) to 5 ug/m3.
They say that if we can do this, we will save close to 7 million lives on our planet. In Delhi, and in most parts of India, we are breathing levels that are well above this guideline. Even in summer and monsoons, when many people put their air purifiers away (just as they do for their space heaters), the PM levels are between 50 and 150 ug/m3. One MUST keep their machines on through the year if the levels are above 5ug/m3. And not pack them away like a heater to only come out in the winter months when the pollution is visible.
Air pollution is “invisible”. When I embarked upon my journey to help people breathe clean air, there was hardly any awareness about the problem. And everyone would tell me that I was crazy to get into this business as pollution was invisible and “if you can’t see it, you can’t sell it!”. I persisted, and not only has BreatheEasy grown to become a viable business generating jobs, but more importantly, we have helped numerous people through our journey with breathing clean air. We have made deliveries in the middle of the night at 2:00 am when we get calls from stressed clients on Diwali night. We have got numerous calls from parents saying that the use of the inhalers and nebulisers has gone down after installing our solutions – and that is a feeling that is priceless.
Author (Barun Aggarwal) is the founder and CEO of BreatheEasy Consultants Pvt. Ltd, he can be reached on barun@BreatheEasyLabs.com