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Sierra magazine
Act | On Your Convictions

Pulling the Plug on Air Purifiers


Otana Jakpor, 16, Riverside, California; senior at Woodcrest Christian High School

"My mom has had severe asthma since I was little, and she had some devices for measuring pulmonary functions. So I decided to use them in my ninth grade science experiment to see for myself how ozone-generating air purifiers affected people's breathing.

"I had parties where I'd invite friends over, and I'd say, 'We'll watch movies and eat cookies, and I'll do my science experiment on you.' I got a lot of guinea pigs that way. When they'd arrive, I'd test how much air they could blow out, and how fast, and then test them again after two and three hours. For asthmatics, pulmonary function worsened after two hours of exposure. Among the whole study sample, it worsened after three hours.

"Even though the people who bought the purifiers probably did it for their health, I concluded that they were actually exposing themselves to more risk. My mom used to take a personal air purifier on planes, and about halfway through the plane ride, she would have an asthma attack. After my experiment we decided that it wasn't the plane; it was the air purifier.

"When doing research for my experiment, I read that the California Air Resources Board was writing a regulation to limit ozone emissions from indoor air purifiers. I decided to share my research with them as they were drafting the legislation, and I was asked to present it at their hearing in 2007. I was 13. People fighting the regulation were saying that there was no direct proof that ozone-generating air purifiers harmed people's breathing. And I had direct proof. I don't know if my research changed the end results of that legislation necessarily, but I think it made the process go more smoothly.

"Science is science, kind of, no matter who does it or how old they are. I sort of just assumed that people would listen." —interview by Sarah F. Kessler

NO ZONE FOR OZONE California now bans purifiers that emit ozone levels higher than .05 parts per million. It was the first state to do so.

ON THE WEB View a list of potentially dangerous ozone-generating air purifiers and learn about their hazards at http://bit.ly/airpurifier.

Photo by Michael Darter

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