A purified learning environment

A purified learning environment

Tim Browning, Head of Business Development - Air Treatment at Fellowes explores how improving air quality in education environments is key to minimise disruption to learning, by reducing the transmission of harmful germs and viruses including coronavirus, and how it can also improve pupils’ performance.

For any owner or facilities manager of a school or university, the health and safety of pupils, staff and visitors is always a top priority. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increased focus on how premises should adapt and implement measures to prevent the spread of harmful germs and viruses including COVID-19.

As we have come to learn over the course of the pandemic, the virus can spread either by someone touching a contaminated surface or through the inhalation of airborne droplets generated when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes. For educational establishments, measures that can help schooling to continue to operate and reduce disruption to learning should therefore be considered.  

Protecting against COVID-19

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) explains that when people infected with COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) exhale, particles that include the virus are expelled into the air. If someone is within a “short range” (less than 1m away) they are at risk of inhaling these harmful particles almost instantly. Any remaining particles then disperse and can be inhaled by those further away – and even those over 2m away can be exposed. It is also important to consider that particles can remain in the air for hours, so even after the infected person leaves the premises, occupants could still be at risk. The threat is amplified in busy indoor environments such as classrooms, where children spend most of their day, and will be exposed to respiratory aerosols - even from talking loudly or singing.

It has therefore become the norm for education facilities to implement mask wearing and keep doors and windows open where possible to improve ventilation. Although these measures can be effective at reducing transmission of disease, they are not always practical. For example, during the colder months it is not always appropriate to have doors and windows open for extended periods of time. Furthermore, a report by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) advised that although wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and keeping windows and doors open will help to reduce transmission of disease, an air ventilation or air purification system should be installed to minimise risk further.

This advice has also been underpinned by other organisations globally, including the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) – and recent reports suggest that schools in the UK may even be required to install an air purifier in every classroom in the not-so-distant future.

As such, it is vital for building owners and facilities managers to carefully consider how air purification systems can be implemented into an overall health and wellbeing strategy to prevent the transmission of disease and improve pupil and staff safety.

What is an air purifier?

As the name suggests, air purifiers work to measure and control air quality and keep harmful airborne particles to an absolute minimum. With multiple solutions available on the market, it is important to carefully consider the design features of each model to ensure that the most appropriate product is selected.


One of the first things to consider when selecting an air purifier is the level and type of filtration offered, as ultimately this will impact on how effective the product is at removing airborne germs and contaminants. Look for models that can offer proven protection against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the pathogenic virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease pandemic, as well as removal of allergens, odours, gases and chemical fumes (including volatile organic compounds). By neutralising viruses and germs in the air, these will offer the best protection.

Most experts agree that models utilising H13 HEPA filters are the ones to look out for.

It is also important to make sure that the air purifier chosen can remove even the smallest particles. As such, leading manufacturers have developed products that are able to capture airborne pollutants as small as 0.1 microns.

Regular cleaning

Due to their nature, schools and universities are high-traffic premises with pupils, staff and visitors accessing numerous spaces and coming into contact with multiple people throughout an average day. As COVID-19 and other harmful particles can remain in the air for some time, it is important that the air purifier will work to remove contaminants from the air automatically and on a regular basis.

For example, the Fellowes AeraMax Pro eliminates the need to manually change fan speeds as when contaminants are detected in the air it will automatically work to remove them – and when the room is empty or the air is clean, it shifts to standby mode. In addition, AeraMax Pro purifiers are designed to deliver up to five air changes per hour, which means the air is cleaned every 12 minutes. This ensures maximum protection whilst also allowing for fewer filter changes and energy savings.

Certified to protect

For additional peace of mind that the air purifiers selected can perform as intended and deliver on the benefits promised by manufacturers, check if they have been accredited by an independent third party.

For example, the Fellowes AeraMax Pro AM3 and 4 air purifiers were tested at the University of Genoa, School of Medicine, Department of Experimental Medicine against COVID-19 virus contaminants and the study found that they neutralised the airborne viral load of SARS-CoV-2 entirely and were able to remove 99.9999% of the aerosolised SARS-CoV-2 through a single pass of the purifier. In addition, certification from the Shanghai WEIPU Chemical Technology Service Company found that the AeraMax Pro products showed a 99.99% airborne reduction of a coronavirus surrogate and 99.9% removal of the H1N1 flu virus (commonly known as Swine Flu).

Additional benefits of air purification

As well as preventing the transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses and diseases, air purifiers have also been shown to offer additional benefits.

Research has shown a link between under-ventilated spaces and health issues including headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, nausea and eye, nose, throat and skin irritation. For example, Government research that looked at the indoor air quality across eight primary schools in England found that formaldehyde (a strong smelling, colourless gas often used in building materials) levels were 42 times greater inside the school compared to those outside of the school. Formaldehyde can cause symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, reduced concentration and breathing problems. In addition, levels of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) exceeded the proposed guideline value of 300μg m3 in 21% of classrooms.

This research therefore shows how poor indoor air quality can have a negative impact on students’ health and in-class productivity – and emphasises the importance of installing air purifiers in classrooms to remove harmful particles such as formaldehyde. Air purifiers will also work to remove contaminants like viruses, bacteria, pollen and fine dust from the air to ensure a safer and more comfortable learning environment.

It is crucial that owners and facilities managers of education facilities look at how indoor air quality can be improved in classrooms and other high-traffic areas to reduce the transmission of disease and ensure staff and students can work as productively as possible. The Fellowes AeraMax Pro can be used as part of a proactive approach to complete hygiene – and with both wall-mounted and free-standing models available, there is a solution to suit the requirements of any space.

For more information about our AeraMax Pro air purifiers, visit: www.aeramaxpro.com/uk 


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