Bipolar Ionization vs. Shielded Upper Room UV-C: Is One Air Treatment Method Better than the Other?

April 19, 2021
Bipolar Ionization vs. Shielded Upper Room UV-C: Is One Air Treatment Method Better than the Other?

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed indoor air quality and air treatment at the forefront of everyone’s minds. From school district facility managers to commercial building owners to dentists and more, anyone in charge of an occupied building is seeking ways to make indoor environments cleaner, safer places for visitors, residents, and staff. UV-C light and bipolar ionization are two of the treatment methods that have seen most prominent use as air treatment methods in response to the pandemic and across industries.

If you’re looking for ways to protect occupants and visitors in your building, how can you decide which of these treatment methods is best? This article aims to outline the basic definition of both air treatment methods and break down key comparison points to help you determine whether UV-C or bipolar ionization is the best choice for your building.

What is Shielded Upper Room UV-C Air Treatment?

Ultraviolet light treatment, also known as UV-C or UVGI, is a technology that has been around for over 100 years and is well-studied and long-proven as an effective method of pathogen control. Ultraviolet light, applied in specific short wavelengths, works to destroy microorganisms by inactivating their DNA.

There are a number of ways that UV-C light is applied to effectively treat harmful pathogens, but this article will focus specifically on source-level solutions. Upper room, in-ceiling, and shielded UV-C air treatment are all terms that refer to UV-C technologies that are effective and safe for use in occupied spaces. Clinical research and peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that when implemented properly, UV-C light treatment effectively neutralizes pathogens at their source, and can be safe for use in occupied spaces.

For an example of what shielded upper room UV-C air treatment looks like, we invite you to explore the UV Angel Clean Air™ page. These units make use of a shielded, non-ozone-producing UV-C lamp that neutralizes pathogens as a fan system flows air over the lamp. Treated air is then pumped back into the environment.

What is Bipolar Ionization?

Bipolar ionization is an air treatment method that works to inactivate potentially harmful pathogens by introducing positive and negative ions into the air. Bipolar ionization has been proven effective in removing particulates through a process called agglomeration. In this process, charged ions attach to and attract oppositely charged particles. As these particles come together, they agglomerate, creating clusters of particles that eventually become large enough to fall on the floor or be captured by a filter.

Recently, some studies have shown that bipolar ionization may be able to inactivate pathogens and reduce volatile organic compounds, but this science is not yet well understood, and there are many studies refuting this ability.

Bipolar ionization is not a new technology, but there is much that is still not understood about it. The science behind bipolar ionization is complex, and while it has recently gained popularity and press as a potential method of air treatment, many leading scientists are cautioning businesses, schools, offices, and more against jumping to implement bipolar ionization treatment solutions. There are few if any long-term peer-reviewed health studies from exposure to ions. We’d like to address these concerns by directly comparing bipolar ionization to UV-C light treatment.

Bipolar Ionization vs. Shielded, Upper Room UV-C Air Treatment: A Direct Comparison

Peer-Reviewed Clinical Efficacy Data

The first concern of any air treatment method is effectiveness. How effective are each of these treatment methods in neutralizing pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and fungi? When it comes to pathogen control, peer-reviewed documentation is also important to ensure you make the best decision for your building. Peer-reviewed documentation is the gold standard of proof that a technology is actually effective in its intended environment. Here’s how UV-C light and bipolar ionization compare:

Shielded, upper-room UV-C air treatment is well-studied and has been used as an effective pathogen control method for decades. Hospitals and dental offices have long used UV-C light to treat rooms and equipment, and peer-reviewed documentation continues to prove the effectiveness of properly implemented UV-C light technology, as well as its safety for use around people.

Bipolar Ionization has less clinical backing, especially when it comes to the removal of airborne contaminants. While some studies have shown bipolar ionization to reduce some pathogens, it hasn’t been proven effective, especially in large spaces. A recent study completed by Trane found bipolar ionization ineffective at removing VOCs or viral particles from indoor air. Another concern regarding the effectiveness of bipolar ionization is that while some studies have shown its capability of minimizing some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) it has also been shown to increase others, which can present potential health risks to those in the vicinity of an ionizer.

Speed of Treatment (Dose Time)

In addition to effectiveness, the speed at which a product is able to neutralize a potentially harmful pathogen — known as dose time — is important to consider. Businesses and organizations are looking for pathogen treatment methods that can help neutralize airborne pathogens at the source. To neutralize airborne particles effectively, dose time must be reasonably fast. A method that can treat pathogens, but is slow to do so, will be considerably less effective than a method that can quickly target and neutralize airborne pathogens.

Upper-room UV-C technology is a fast, effective method of air treatment. While all UV-C technology is different, UV Angel’s Air™ units function to pull contaminated air into the unit, where it flows over the UV-C lamp, and is treated every .7 seconds. Treated air is then pushed back out into the room. This method ensures that airborne pathogens are treated quickly and effectively constantly, 24/7/365.

Bipolar ionization is, comparatively, a much slower treatment method. In general, bipolar ionization requires 60+ minutes to reduce most pathogens. This is far too slow-acting to interrupt the transmission of pathogens from one person to another. For this reason, it may not be the best method for air treatment.

Safety for Use in Occupied Spaces

Concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the need and urgency for pathogen control at the source level. When choosing between UV-C technology and bipolar ionization, it’s important to understand whether the technology you’re implementing is shielded and safe for use in occupied spaces.

UV-C light technology has been used for decades, so scientists know that direct exposure to UV-C light is unsafe for humans. But, by shielding UV-C lamps, it is possible to bring effective pathogen control directly and safely into occupied spaces. Non-ozone-producing UV-C lamps, like those used by UV Angel, do not introduce harmful byproducts or chemicals into your environment, and are safe for use in occupied spaces so long as the lamp is shielded from contact with humans. For more information, see this peer-reviewed study on the safety of shielded ceiling-mounted UV-C systems.

Bipolar ionization is still in the early phases of its testing for safety. A number of studies have been completed, but thus far, the results are inconclusive. Bipolar ionization technology is additive in nature, which means that ionized air is pumped into occupied environments where occupants are breathing in those ions. There are potential adverse effects from the ions themselves. A study in Beijing concluded that exposure to negative ions was associated with increased systemic oxidative stress levels, a biomarker of cardiovascular health.

What is also worrying is many studies have shown that, according to this article from Colorado State University, “ions added to occupied environments such as school or office buildings can react with other compounds present in indoor air, which can potentially lead to the formation of harmful byproducts such as formaldehyde and ozone.”

This additive approach to pathogen control is complex, and as yet has not been well studied. Regarding the safety of bipolar ionization, Dr. William Bahnfleth, Chairman of the ASHRAE COVID-19 Taskforce says, “Aside from claims about the benefits of negative ions, my understanding is the possible adverse effects of ionizers, whether directly from inhaling them or from impacts on uptake of particulate matter in the respiratory system are not well-studied. There are studies in the literature that report adverse effects from positive ions and no effects from negative ions. The literature is not clear.”

However effective bipolar ionization may be, it’s not proven safe for use in occupied spaces. Industry-leading experts agree that there is not enough data to back up either the effectiveness or the safety of bipolar ionization products. UV-C light technology, however, has been used safely for years and is proven both safe and effective at reducing pathogens at the source level.

Shielded Upper Room UV-C Air Treatment vs. Bipolar Ionization: Which Technology is Best For Your Building?

When it comes to implementing effective, safe pathogen control technology at the source level, the research is clear — UV-C light treatment is both safe and effective. While bipolar ionization may be shown to provide some benefits in the future, at present, there is not enough research or data to support that these products safely or effectively neutralize pathogens in occupied spaces.

If you are looking for a UV-C treatment technology you can trust to create cleaner, safer environments in your building, UV Angel is backed by years of research and clinical trials proving that our technology works. UV Angel products are safe for use in occupied spaces and work to neutralize pathogens at the source. Laboratory tests on UV Angel products have shown elimination rates of up to 99.99%. For more information about the effectiveness or implementation of UV Angel’s proven, patented ultraviolet light technology, we encourage you to contact us online or give a UV Angel expert a call at 1-310-684-3839