South / Regional Reports

Filtration Factor In Bioterrorism Topic Of National Conference

July 3, 2002
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NASHVILLE, TN — Bioterrorism, mold, and the uncertainties that come with a growing market were the hot topics at the National Air Filtration Association’s (NAFA) 2002 Technical Seminar here.

The national gathering was the first for NAFA since the group's 2001 annual conference, scheduled for last fall, was cancelled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Word Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Reflecting America’s changed sensibilities since the attacks, NAFA officials made discussion of bioterrorism a big part of this year’s seminar. Penn State University Professor W.J. Kowalski, P.E., an expert on chemical and biological warfare, gave a presentation on how filtration can be part of a building's defense system.

Kowalski said many buildings in use today are not adequately protected against bioterrorism. "The outside air intake is a vulnerable place for most buildings, especially if it’s at ground floor level," he said. High rise office complexes, government buildings, restaurants, schools, and hotels are among the structures most at risk for a biological attack, he added. The most likely scenarios for a chemical attack, Kowalski told attendees, involve releasing the toxic agents in air handling units or general areas such as elevator shafts, stairwells, as well as outside air intakes.

Fortunately, there are several precautions building managers can take to protect occupants, he said. Multi-zone systems help limit the number of people who could be exposed to a chemical attack and filters can also offer protection against many agents. However, to be most effective, the filter’s Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) — a number denoting how small a particle the filter can capture — should be about 13. Using a higher efficiency filter seems to offer little added help, Kowalski said. He produced a chart showing the performance difference between MERV 13 and 14 to be negligible in removing virus and bacteria spores. "No matter how much you increase the filter size above MRV 13, you don't get any additional benefits," he said.

FILTER CLAIMS MUST PASS FTC

As a result of the public’s recent interest in fighting bioterrorism, a number of filter companies are now making claims about their products' abilities to protect against anthrax and other contaminants. Carol Jennings, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) Office of Enforcement, gave air filter manufacturers and sales representatives a short lesson on the U.S. truth in advertising laws.

Jennings reminded attendees that the FTC requires companies to have all claims substantiated before releasing an advertisement to the public. It also requires that the ad not be confusing. "It doesn't have to be overly false to be deceptive," she said. "An ad can be factually true and still mislead the consumer."

Adequate substantiation consists of evidence that supports claims made in the advertisement and in some cases, scientific proof of the product's benefits, Jennings said. Personal testimonials, letters from satisfied customers, or information found on the Internet do not qualify as proof, she added.

If you make some sort of a health claim about the use of your filter, you need to back that up, she said. It’s especially important with products such as air filters, where what makes a good filter vs. a bad filter is beyond the grasp of many people.

"Consumers can’t judge the effectiveness of a filter in cleaning the air," she said. "Under the law, you need to have substantiation before you make that claim."

Jennings pointed out the FTC has successfully sued the makers of ozone generators who say that their products purify the air by proving in court that there is no concrete scientific proof that ozone acts as a cleaning agent.

Even ads that do contain "substantiation" can pose a problem, Jennings said. "Expertise does not translate from one field to another," she said, adding that if you are making claims about a filter’s ability to trap contaminants, a scientist who does not work with microorganisms could not testify to its effectiveness. The phrase "doctor recommended" should not be used. Don’t imply endorsement of your brand. "If a doctor recommended getting a HEPA filter," she said, "that doesn’t mean they recommended a certain brand of filter."

But while the FTC makes such stipulations, Jennings acknowledged that many problem ads still get through. She told the attendees about one air cleaning company she recently investigated whose ad listed all sorts of contaminants next to the product. When the FTC complained, the company said the ad was not false because it did not say the product removed any of the pollutants. The FTC didn't buy it — the ad had to be withdrawn.

Companies who violate the FTC Act can be ordered to pay up to $11,000 for each violation and issue refunds to consumers who purchased their products.

IAQ ISSUES

Matt Klein, P.E., ME, president of Indoor Air Quality Solutions, gave a presentation on the public’s perception of the filter industry during "Filtration, IAQ, and the Consumer Market." Klein told attendees that at the consumer level, air filtration systems are still thought to be mostly about "dust control."

He advocated explaining to building managers the difference between dust, which can largely be considered an annoyance, and contaminants, which affect the health and well being of building occupants. Filter company representatives need to make it a dollars and cents issue.

"The reason why people who have IAQ problems in their building get it taken care of is because it is costing the business money," Klein said. "If you have one person complaining, you probably have 10 others who are unhappy."

When dealing with homeowners, education is also important, he added. "The first thing you should do when you go into a house is ask where their allergies are." Too often, homeowners are left on their own to figure out their filter needs, and end up with erroneous information from neighbors or the Internet.

And if you make the sale, don’t desert the customer, he added. Let them know where they can purchase the correct replacement filter. "Make sure the customer knows how the filtration system works — don't trust the customer to read the manual. Dry run the filter change with the customer."

Other presentations at the seminar included "Gas Phase Filtration" and "Fiberglass vs. Synthetic Air Filtration Media." Speakers included officials from Camfil Farr and AQF Technologies. The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) also sponsored a daylong mold remediation certification class.

NAFA officials announced at the seminar that its board of directors had approved a new policy to make membership possible for more people in the filter industry. The board added the "Individual Member" category to the current NAFA membership classifications: Active Member Companies, Associate Member Companies, and Professional Individuals.

Most attendees said they were happy with the event.

Carol Christensen of The Filter Man Inc. in New Caney, TX, is a member of NAFA’s Standards Committee. Christensen said NAFA members pride themselves on keeping up to date on the goings on in the filter industry, and the technical seminars help them do it. "It's always very knowledgeable," she said.

George Spottswood of Quality Filters Inc. of Robertsdale, AL, echoed her comments. "I think (the seminar) was excellent. It's a great way for us to associate with everyone in this industry and become one voice to the outside," Spottswood said.

The next major meeting for NAFA is the group's 2002 Annual Convention, Sept. 25-29 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center near Orlando, FL. For more information, visit www.nafahq.org on the Internet.

McConnell is managing editor of Snips Magazine, a sister publication of The News.

Publication date: 07/08/2002

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