Air quality engineer argues HEPA filters suggested by Gov. Cuomo aren’t necessary in malls

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — As Destiny USA waits for more clarity from New York State about what air filters are required in its mall air conditioners before being allowed to reopen, an air quality engineer says there is no substantive evidence that the virus has infected anyone through air conditioning.

William Bahnfleth, a professor of architect at The Pennsylvania State University and chair of an industry task force studying COVID-19 transmission through indoor air tells NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan: “My personal opinion is that I don’t think it’s necessary to go to that extreme to make malls safe if we’re doing all the other things that ought to be done.”

According to information shared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his briefing on Monday, the COVID-19 virus particle is 0.125 micron in diameter.

They have different filters that filter out different sized particles. And they have filters that can actually filter out and catch the COVID virus. For large mall reopenings, which we haven’t done yet, we’re going to make this mandatory. I would recommend, the state recommends, for all businesses and offices – they explore the potential for their air conditioning/air filtration system, adding a filter that can filter out the COVID virus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

He suggested for something as effective as a HEPA — High-Efficiency Particulate Air — filter designed to catch particles 0.01 micron and bigger.

Cuomo didn’t specify if he’s requiring the HEPA-level filter or if less-stringent filters that catch COVID-19, possibly already in use in newer buildings like Destiny USA, are acceptable.

The professor argues that there are plenty of filters less stringent than HEPA that will remove the virus. 

He says HEPA filters are usually not easily replaceable with the filters that come with the systems, indicating expense and labor in order to make the transition. 

HEPA filters are measured beyond the normal MERV scale used to rate the effectiveness of a filter.

Bahnfleth’s task force, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Epidemic Task Force, recommends businesses upgrade their filters from level eight to level 13, using the MERV scale, or as high as possible. 

He says HEPA-level filters are used only in some areas of hospitals, laboratories and clean rooms. He adds: “Even in hospitals, not all filters need to be HEPA. [They’re] only in a few specialized places, so it’s a pretty extreme requirement that those are specified to meet.”

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