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California School District Disconnects Air Cleaning Devices Amid Lawsuit

Newark School District disconnects more than 500 ionization devices

May 26, 2021

Many school districts across the country have invested in their facilities’ ventilation systems and installed air cleaning devices like purifiers to improve indoor air quality for students, teachers, and staff.

The latest guidelines released late last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend schools improve facility ventilation to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19.

However, some schools have serious concerns regarding whether air purification devices work. Recently, Newark Unified School District in Newark, California disconnected more than 500 ionization devices due to a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer which alleged their air cleaning devices make the air worse, The Mercury News reports.

Newark Unified School District board had approved the purchase of 556 bipolar ionization devices for US$359,945 from North Carolina-based Global Plasma Solutions in November 2020 to clean the air in classrooms and prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A vendor had presented the ionization devices’ effectiveness against the coronavirus to the school board in November. The district had said the devices would be paid for using funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

After learning of a class action lawsuit filed on May 7 in Delaware federal court against Global Plasma Solutions, Superintendent Mark Triplett sent an email stating the district “has decided to disconnect all these devices from our HVAC units until further notice. As always, the health and safety of our students and staff remain our highest priority, and we will continue to monitor this situation as it evolves,” he said.

The lawsuit claims the manufacturer’s ionization devices “make the air worse for people” by reducing some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) but increasing the concentration of other VOCs.

The manufacturer disputes these claims.

“The lawsuit is without merit and based on flawed research, and we will be filing a motion to dismiss the case in the coming days,” a spokesperson for Global Plasma Solution said in a statement emailed to The Mercury News. “We are also extending an offer to conduct onsite testing to verify the safety of this technology and the added benefits and confidence bipolar ionization delivers for Newark’s schools.”

Marwa Zaatari, a member of the Epidemic Task Force of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), had raised doubt regarding the efficacy of the ionization devices. Zaatari told Kaiser Health News earlier this month that Global Plasma Solutions had sued her and another air quality consultant for criticizing their devices.

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