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Feb. 23, 2021

Using air purification to protect against COVID-19 on campus

Photo shows IPF employee installing UV-C air purification device in Wonders Hall.


Working to keep Spartans living and coming to campus safe, Strategic Infrastructure Planning and Facilities at Michigan State University is installing air purifiers to further protect against COVID-19.


To date, IPF has installed more than 60 air purification devices in campus buildings and 238 in campus elevators. These serve to boost protection for a building’s current heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system. 


These new air purifying technologies on campus include needlepoint bipolar ionization, which releases ions into the air that make pathogens inactive; UV-C, which uses ultraviolet light to clean the air; atmospheric cold plasma, which kills viruses with oxidizing molecules; and portable high-efficiency particulate air filtration, which cleans the air with a filter that traps viruses. 


Campus has [HVAC] systems as old as 1922,” said Susan Hopper, a mechanical engineer in the Planning, Design and Construction unit of IPF. “Most are running properly with a life expectancy far exceeding the average. IPF maintenance and our HVAC zone mechanics have done a tremendous job at keeping these systems running safely for the campus community.”


Air purifiers, which can protect against COVID-19 and other viruses like the flu, have been installed in specific buildings — those that would benefit from additional ventilation and those that are used for high-respiratory activities like singing and recreational sports, says Hopper. 


Hopper is part of the HVAC COVID group, a team of four from IPF and MSU’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, who determine whether campus spaces are safe for Spartan re-occupancy, evaluating factors like a room’s ventilation and airflow. So far, the group has evaluated more than 1,100 spaces in 84 campus buildings, and the university anticipates continuing to evaluate spaces for summer and fall occupancy.


COVID-19 is more easily spread indoors, when there is decreased ventilation and airflow, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Installing air purification units aligns with the CDC’s safety recommendations for buildings, which asserts that improving ventilation alongside other COVID mitigation strategies can help reduce exposure. The units installed act as an added safety barrier to MSU’s current COVID safety protocols like social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing. 


“Infections occur primarily in the communal airspace as they are spread person-to-person, through direct contact or with large aerosol droplets transmitted within close vicinity,” said Hopper. “This is why social distancing and masks are important. Air purification can give another level of safety during this pandemic, where researchers are still gathering information on the virus, as many of these devices work at the room level.”


This ongoing HVAC initiative is approaching the budgeted $1 million.

By: RiAn Jackson and Susan Hopper

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