Electronic Equipment and Indoor Air Quality – The Importance of Certification

Electronic Equipment and Indoor Air Quality – The Importance of Certification

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Electronic equipment is fundamental to supporting a healthier indoor environment. From air cleaners to vacuum cleaners and air conditioners to dehumidifiers, these pieces of equipment can operate to clean, remove allergens and contribute to a comfortable indoor air environment. The certification of consumer products is an informative and essential way to communicate a range of functions and compliance characteristics. This is especially true for electronic equipment which may have a range of functionalities, and certification can be used to describe clearly to the consumer the impact that these may have on the indoor air environment.

Certification of electronic equipment at its most basic is required to prove that they are safe to use.  CE marking in Europe1 and Underwriters Laboratories certification in the United States and Canada2 are required to prove that electrical equipment complies with all relevant health, safety and environmental requirements. These are requirements for legally selling electrical equipment.

Electronic equipment such as vacuum cleaners, air cleaners, air conditioners, dehumidifiers and more, can all contribute to a healthier indoor environment. They must be effective and impactful, and many manufacturers spend considerable time and money to ensure that this is the case. A challenge can be in the communication of this to consumers. The testing that is involved in terms of test chambers, allergen removal rates, dirt pick up, etc require consumer time to fully understand the performance of the equipment. Certification can provide an informative synopsis in terms of consumer understanding of what the equipment can do.  There are a range of certifications that address how electronic equipment may contribute to a healthy indoor environment, from an environmental and health perspective. These include:

  1. Blue Angel
  2. Carpet and Rug Institute
  3. Nordic Swan Ecolabel
  4. AHAM Verifide
  5. California Air Resources Board
  6. European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation
  7. TUV Rheineland
  8. asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program

 

1.   Blue Angel:

Blue Angel3 was established in 1978 and is the ecolabel of the German Government. It tests products for environmental, health and performance characteristics, across their entire life cycle. Similarly to a range of eco certifications, Blue Angel test a variety of product classes including electrical devices, building products, cleaning products and textiles. Their certification addresses a range of electronic equipment with air conditioners and vacuum cleaners being most relevant for a healthier indoor air environment. Certification of air conditioners is based on:

  • High energy efficiency
  • Low greenhouse gas emissions
  • Low noise emissions
  • Reduced pollutant contents.

The standard also specifies that filters should be easily removed and cleaned.

Certification of vacuum cleaners is based on:

  • Low energy consumption
  • High dust pick-up and low dust re-emissions (based on artificial dust)
  • Low noise emissions
  • Use of environmentally sound materials
  • Long-lived and recyclable design.

 

2.   Carpet and Rug Institute

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI)4 is the trade association for carpeting and rugs in North America. In addition to advocacy, providing information on selection of best carpet for your indoor environment and defining installation standards, the CRI also operate a Seal of Approval Program. The Seal of Approval can be applied to carpet cleaning products, maintenance and vacuum cleaners and are ranked Bronze, Silver and Gold. There are two categories of vacuum cleaner that are addressed which include:

  • General purpose vacuum cleaners
  • Vacuum cleaners for low pile (less than a quarter of an inch).

There are a number of criteria that vacuum cleaners must achieve in order to be awarded the seal and these include:

  • Soil removal; as measured by x-ray fluorescence technology
  • Dust containment; vacuum cleaners should not release more than 100 micrograms of dust particles per cubic metre of air
  • Surface appearance change; use of the vacuum cleaner should not affect the texture of the commercial cut pile carpet
  • Amount of electrical power used by a vacuum when tested under specified conditions
  • Power use effectiveness.

 

3.   Nordic Swan Ecolabel:

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel5 was established in 1989 to reduce the environmental impact from the production and consumption of goods. The certification mark is intended to act as an enabler for consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is targeted at both the product life cycle and at the chemicals used in their manufacture. There are over 60 product groups that this program certifies, including decorative coatings, toys, personal care products, textiles and electrical goods.

The types of electrical goods that this Program certifies includes:

Heat pumps; certified on the basis of

  • High efficiency
  • Stringent environmental requirements on production process and materials used
  • Low noise level
  • Information on environmentally friendly handling of end-of-life.

Dishwashers and commercial beverage coolers; certified on the basis of:

  • Low electricity and water consumption
  • Product’s cycle performance
  • Reduced impact on the ozone layer through a ban on the use of ozone depleting refrigerants and foaming agents
  • Reduced contribution to global warming through requirements to minimise use of substances that emit CO2(eq) to the atmosphere
  • Reduced use of substances that are hazardous to health and the environment by applying requirements to certain materials and chemicals.

 

4.   Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM)

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM)6, established more than 50 years ago, represents the air cleaner appliance manufacturing industry through leadership, education and advocacy. Part of this role involves setting standards for the performance of these appliances, including air cleaners and filters. The standard for determining this is the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and is measured under the AHAM Verifide program. This standard tests the amount of clean air that an air cleaner delivers, based on scores for smoke, pollen and dust. The higher the CADR, the faster the rate of air cleaning. This CADR number can be used to determine the size of room that the air cleaner is suitable for; the CADR of your air filter should be equal to at least two-thirds of the room’s area7. As part of their specific remit, AHAM only certify electronic equipment with an impact on air quality.

 

5.   California Air Resources Board (CARB):

CARB8 was established in 1967 to independently set air quality standards for the State of California. Their remit is to protect the public from the harmful effects of air pollution and to develop programs and actions to fight climate change. A range of products, facilities and vehicles must comply with CARB requirements, and must be compliant. These include trucks, buses, construction material and air cleaners. All portable air cleaning devices sold in California must be certified by CARB; electronic air cleaners must be tested for ozone emissions and meet a limit of 0.050 parts per million. CARB does not evaluate air cleaners based on efficacy, solely on ozone emissions.

 

6.   European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation

ECARF9 is a non-profit organisation whose remit is to ensure that people with allergies receive the best possible guidance in everyday matters and treatment options. The Certification Seal was established in 2006 to identify products that are more suitable for those with allergies. Certification standards are developed by an independent advisory panel of 15 leading international scientists and technicians. They include threshold values and exclusion criteria that make an allergic reaction very unlikely.

Electronic equipment that ECARF certify include:

  • Air purifiers; certified based on:
    • Achieving a measurable improvement in air quality for the given room size through normal everyday use
    • This improvement in air quality is measured by the removal of bacteria, fine dust (artificial dust), mold spores and pollen
    • Ozone levels must remain below regulatory levels.
  • Vacuum cleaners; certified based on:
    • Removal of allergens from flooring.
    • Dust emissions (artificial dust) of the vacuum cleaner
    • Instructions for operation and filter change.

It is important to note that bagless and water filter based vacuum cleaners are not eligible for certification.

  • Washing Machines; certified based on:
    • Must support the comfortable use of fabrics by those with allergies (fragrance and residual detergent left on the clothes can be unpleasant for those with allergies)
    • Should remove pollen and animal dander
    • Provision of intensive rinsing programs
    • Maximum water consumption is limited
    • Detergents residues should not exceed specific parameters
    • Washing performance is maintained
    • Effective and quantifiable removal of pollen and cat dander.

 

7.   TUV Rheineland

TUV Rheineland10 was established almost 150 years ago and is one of the largest testing service  providers. TUV Rheineland provide training and certification across a range of sectors including transportation, commodities & consumer goods, industry & infrastructure, systems & processes, organisations & individuals, occupational health & safety and information security & telecommunications. Household appliance testing and certification is based a range of criteria which include: electrical safety, chemical safety of the manufacturing materials, performance characteristics relevant to the appliance, energy class labelling and eco-design, microbiological testing and certification. Performance characteristics which TUV Rheineland consider include: manufacturing quality, functionality, ergonomic properties, ease of use, durability, ease of care, suitability and safety, a low-noise design or the clarity and quality of the user manual.

 

8.   asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program

The asthma & allergy friendly®  Certification Program11 is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) and is also operated internationally through a global certification mark. The program certifies a range of consumer products that they are more suitable for those with asthma and allergies, based on their impact on indoor air quality. Product categories that they certify include cleaning products, flooring, decorative coatings, bedding and electronic products such as vacuum cleaners, air purifiers and washing machines. The products that the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program certify have to have a proven impact on improving the quality of the indoor air environment.

Portable Air Cleaners are tested in a similar chamber to AHAM, and are challenged against a test dust containing a range of allergens which include pollen, cat dander, house dust mite among others. The dust that is used in this program is real dust, as opposed to artificial dust used in the majority of other programs. Air cleaners are certified based on:

  • Reduction of allergens from the air
  • Demonstration that the allergen reduction is actual removal and not redistribution
  • Adherence to ozone level regulations.

Whole Home Air Cleaners are installed in the duct work of the central forced air conditioning systems, and as such can affect the air quality of the whole home. These systems are certified based on:

  • Reduction of allergens from the air
  • Demonstration of removal and not redistribution of allergen
  • Manufacturer’s cleaning procedure must restore device’s performance
  • Ozone levels must comply with federal regulations.

Dehumidifiers are also chamber tested to prove that they can:

  • Maintain humidity levels to stringent criteria
  • That this level is reached in a reasonable period of time and that it can be maintained.

Potential exposure to mold or allergens on water receptacle change is also monitored and must be below threshold levels. Finally, the machine must come with a care code to indicate filter change and water receptacle emptying recommendations.

Humidifiers are evaluated to prove that they can:

  • Maintain relative humidity at specific levels
  • That the water used is sanitized during use
  • That they have the ability to reduce pre-existing contamination in the room.

Washing Machines are certified on the basis that they can:

  • Reduce allergens and irritants in washable items
  • Reach a temperature above 130°F throughout the drum
  • Kill dust mites
  • Work without exposing the user to ozone or volatile organic compounds.

Vacuum Cleaners are certified on a range of criteria, these include:

  • Proven to remove surface allergens
  • Airborne allergens during vacuuming must remain below certification thresholds
  • Dust release when the bag or canister is full must remain below certification thresholds
  • Dust and allergen release on canister or bag change must remain below certification thresholds
  • Water based systems must not contribute to increased relative humidity in the air or carpet
  • Water based systems must have a care code to address potential of mold growth.

“Trust is a significant part of a Certification Program”

Certification programs have an essential role to play in terms of effective communication to the consumer. This is true for both basic safety characteristics, as well as more specific functionalities such as those that may contribute to a healthier indoor air environment. It can be difficult for a consumer to find a certification mark that they trust, that addresses a wide range of product certification. Of the programs discussed in this article, only ECARF, TUV Rheineland and the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program certify a wide range of relevant products and only ECARF and asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program specifically focus on those with asthma and/or allergies. Trust is a significant part of a Certification Program, if a consumer finds a program that they can trust, they are more likely to use this as a signpost for products that are more suitable for them. If this program incorporates a wide range of electronic products, it is more likely that this will have an overall positive impact on consumer purchasing and action.

 


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Dr. Tim Yeomans photo

Dr. Tim Yeomans

About the author 

Thanks to Dr. Tim Yeomans for this insightful article.

Dr. Tim Yeomans is the Centre Manager for Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, a collaboration between two third level colleges in Ireland. Tim holds a PhD in Microbiology and postgraduate qualifications in Technology Commercialisation and Innovation Management. Tim has worked in research and development for 20 years, both in industry and academia. In his role in Shannon ABC, Tim is responsible for the scientific direction of the Centre, intellectual property management and business and technology development.

 

Keywords 

asthma & allergy friendly®, Allergy Standards, allergies, asthma, electronics, certification program,, allergen, dust, chemicals, environment,  standards, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, humidifier, air cleaner, indoor air, ozone

References

  1. European Union [online] https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/product-requirements/labels-markings/ce-marking/index_en.htm [accessed Nov 2020]
  2. Underwriters Laboratories [online] https://www.ul.com/industries/technology-and-electronics/consumer-electronics [accessed Nov 2020
  3. Blue Angel [online] https://www.blauer-engel.de/en [accessed Oct 2020]
  4. Carpet and Rug Institute [online] https://carpet-rug.org/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  5. Nordic Swan Ecolabel [online] http://www.nordic-ecolabel.org/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  6. Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers [online] https://ahamverifide.org/ [accessed Nov 2020]
  7. Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers [online] https://ahamverifide.org/ahams-air-filtration-standards/[accessed Nov 2020]
  8. California Air Resources Board [online] https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/list-carb-certified-air-cleaning-devices [accessed Nov 2020]
  9. European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation [online[] https://www.ecarf.org/en/ecarf-seal/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  10. TUV Rheineland [online] https://www.tuv.com/world/en/# [accessed Nov 2020]
  11. asthma & allergy friendly Certification Program [online] https://www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com/USA/accessed Nov 2020]

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