The response to the pandemic is gutting small businesses, which employ nearly half of all American workers.
Steve Levine, CEO of AtmosAir, says sales are fivefold what they were before the pandemic.

Times of Entrepreneurship has been interviewing entrepreneurs about technologies that could help against the COVID-19 pandemic. For previous articles, see a Missouri Biotech Has Technology To Test For Coronavirus In The Air. Why Isn’t It Being Deployed In The US? and Testing For Coronavirus In Sewers: MIT Entrepreneurs Have A Solution That Could Work

Companies that sell technology that can clean the air of viruses and other germs are seeing a huge surge in orders as the pandemic grows. 

The pandemic may be a turning point for the air quality industry, as awareness grows that it’s possible for technology to reduce invisible pathogens as well as pollution and allergens.

Some kinds of air purification technology have been shown to be effective against all kinds of germs, though they haven’t been tested on COVID-19 yet, said Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., professor, microbiology and pathology at New York University’s School of Medicine. He consults for one of the companies, Fairfield, Conn.-based AtmosAir Solutions. He described the company’s bipolar ionization technology. (An ion is a charged particle).

“(A stream of air saturated with ions) goes into the ambient air and destroys anything that is a germ of any kind, a fungus, virus, or a bacterium,” said Tierno. “It also hits surface contamination. It would eventually destroy that, too.”

But, more research is needed to better quantify the value of air purification technology in general, he noted. He also said AtmosAir’s purifier would not be effective against person-to-person transmissions, such as by kissing, or touching your nose or mouth if you carry the virus on your hand.

Coronavirus Stays In The Air For 30 Minutes, Infects People Up To 14 Feet Away

That said, the companies seeing the surging sales now have patented technology that’s been vetted against pathogens including Norovirus and swine flu by scientists in a broad array of tests and situations. They could especially help prevent what’s called indirect transmission. The coronavirus is so small it floats, alive, in the air for 30 minutes and can be transmitted by people 14 feet apart, said Tierno, citing CDC research that is under peer review.

‘Every Distributor In The World Is Emailing Us’

The purifiers, which also rid the air of other pollutants, are already installed in many large institutions and are now making its way into more home HVAC systems. Steve Levine, the CEO of AtmosAir, said his company, with 22 employees and $10 million in annual sales, has seen a five-fold increase in orders. RGF Environmental Group, based in Rivieria Beach, Fla., said it is seeing sales surge by three ties. “Every distributor in the world is emailing us,” said Mat Charles, vice president of sales at the 140-employee company. RGF’s technology uses bipolar ionization as well as a broad-spectrum, high-intensity UV light.

Both companies said their technology costs less than $2,000 for a typical house, and is sold via distribution network of HVAC companies like Carrier and Train.

AtmosAir’s clients, mostly commercial, include Arizona State University, Google and the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, among many others provided by the company. RFG mostly sells to the residential market, according to a spokeswoman for the company.

Both Charles and Levine welcome the new awareness around air quality. But they worry the market will be hit by opportunists, especially as back orders grow.

“They’re going to be crawling out of the woodwork,” Charles said. RGF introduced its purification technology in the mid-1980s. “Look for the length of time the company has been in business and validation – a scientific stamp of approval. If they don’t have validation, steer clear.”

The EPA points to a list maintained by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Rediscovery Of Old Wisdom

A new awareness of air quality as important to preventing disease is in some ways a rediscovery of old wisdom. Ions are also produced in nature, and have long been recognized for their power. People who went to the seaside or mountain waterfalls for a tuberculosis cure were benefitting from ions, said Tierno, who wrote The Secret Life of Germs.

Tierno said he installed a filter in his home four years ago, before he became a consultant for AtmosAir. Its technology, manufactured in Arkansas and Arizona, is sold by 160 dealers around the world.

Levine is a serial entrepreneur who founded the company in 2004, after, in 1997, selling a security company that he built with this father, Protective Alarms.

“I asked myself, ‘What should I do next?’ he said. “I like making a difference in people’s lives. I thought clean air was going to be a business that eventually one day that we would monitor the air that people breathe.”

AtmosAir started in testing. “To be honest with you, not everybody wanted to test the quality – because what were they going to do if it was bad?” he said. Then he discovered the bipolar ionization technology. “There are many ways to clean the air,” he said. “We’ve got a patented process on this technology.”

Both Levine and Charles said they believe the pandemic will end up being a wake-up call that spurs more people to focus on air quality, and the technologies that can improve it.

Tierno, who has been talking to the media since the pandemic began, ended my interview with him by reinforcing a message of how serious the situation is.

The Four Ways An Epidemic Ends

“There are four ways an epidemic ends,” he began:

Everyone who can possibly get infected, gets infected. That’s what happened in the devastating Spanish Flu

A government action finds everyone who is sick and quarantines them. SARS is an example. “This is what South Korea did and what we’re trying to do,” Tierno said. “But we’re very late.”

A change of seasons, or transmission slows in warm weather. Influenza is an example, but we don’t know if COVID-19 will follow the pattern.

Develop a vaccine or drug treatment. We’re 18 months from that.

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