Awareness of the importance of air quality has come a long way since the days of devices like the Ionic Breeze Air Purifier, once routinely featured in the glossy pages of the Sharper Image catalog.
Back then, the technology seemed mostly for show. When Consumer Reports reviewed the Ionic Breeze in 2003, its judgment was that the gadget was all whirl and no function, a desktop tchotchke that did nothing to remove harmful particles from the air.
Sharper Image sued Consumer Reports over its iconic Ionic, and lost. On the central issue of whether the product really worked, it was a court that finally cleared the air.
Meanwhile, consumers were becoming increasingly sophisticated about the issue of air quality — not just in the atmosphere, but also in indoor environments.
Over this period, the growth of the market for air quality monitors has been extraordinary. According to a report by ReportLinker.com, the global market for indoor air quality monitors was estimated at $3.7 Billion in 2020. It’s now projected to reach a size of $6.4 billion by 2027. One segment, fixed indoor monitors, is projected to grow at a 7.9 percent compound annual growth rate to reach $4.2 billion worldwide by 2027.
“The technology has rapidly evolved to fill the need for precise detection of airborne pathogens and particles,” says Toronto-based microbiologist Hamza Mbareche. “Homeowners and businesses alike want to know whether microbes and cancer-causing substances such as asbestos are suspended in living spaces, and at what concentration.”
Hamza Mbareche has evaluated the issue from both the scientific and consumer perspective. As a postdoctoral researcher, Mbareche accumulated an impressive array of discoveries and patents related to air quality, airborne pathogens, the microbiome and genomics. As the founder of his own consulting business, Hamza Mbareche also has broad expertise in detecting and addressing air quality issues in homes, schools, businesses, medical facilities and other public spaces.
Hamza Mbareche notes that today consumers are able to choose from a wide array of air quality monitoring and purification systems, including reference-grade FRM/FEM monitors, mobile air quality sensors, and stationary low-cost sensors.
These options measure air quality in different ways, and often provide different data outputs. According to Hamza Mbareche, the choice of monitoring technology can make the difference between a healthy environment and an atmosphere that is hazardous to the health of individuals and populations.
Not surprisingly, the most precise technology tends to be the most expensive. Air quality monitoring using FRM and FEM equipment is at the leading-edge of scientific discovery. Its high costs include the regular maintenance it requires from technicians. In addition, because the monitors need specific types of environments and infrastructure, they are harder to deploy and often impractical when it comes to measuring air quality in small spaces.
That’s where mobile air quality monitoring becomes an attractive option. Mobile monitors are light enough to be mounted on cars, and much less costly. This sometimes comes at the expense of accuracy. Stationary low-cost sensors that are not considered mobile can be a good choice, but also tend to fall short of the high FRM/FEM standard.
Although measuring airborne particulates involves sensitive instruments, sophisticated computations and new technologies, basic preventative measures also play a central role in detecting and remedying risks, says Mbareche.
Unhealthy indoor air is often the result of interior sources, rather than outdoor air seeping into buildings, he notes. Furniture can release formaldehyde, and cooking, heating units, plastics, and household products can all produce dangerous organic compounds. Carpets are a source of bacteria and fungi, which can be aerosolized into the air by simple activities like walking. Mold growing on surfaces and within walls can generate airborne fungus particles, and dust carries millions of dust mites.
The good news, according to Hamza Mbareche, is that mitigating the risks can mean something as simple as opening windows and using fans. Constant ventilation helps extrude particles from a room, and keeping surfaces dry can prevent the growth of mold. Paying close attention to the products and interior design items used in an indoor space such as paints, carpet and paneling can reduce the amount of organic compounds that will be generated inside a room.
“There is a lot that can be done once we identify the source and magnitude of air quality risks,” says Mbareche. “And that is why regular monitoring is so essential.”