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Particulate matter concentrations in residences: an intervention study evaluating stand-alone filters and air conditioners


S. Batterman
School of Public Health
University of Michigan
Room 6075 SPH2, 1420 Washington Heights
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029
Tel.: +1-734-763-2417
Fax: +1-734-763-8095



This study, a randomized controlled trial, evaluated the effectiveness of free-standing air filters and window air conditioners (ACs) in 126 low-income households of children with asthma. Households were randomized into a control group, a group receiving a free-standing HEPA filter placed in the child’s sleeping area, and a group receiving the filter and a window-mounted AC. Indoor air quality (IAQ) was monitored for week-long periods over three to four seasons. High concentrations of particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide were frequently seen. When IAQ was monitored, filters reduced PM levels in the child’s bedroom by an average of 50%. Filter use varied greatly among households and declined over time, for example, during weeks when pollutants were monitored, filter use was initially high, averaging 84 ± 27%, but dropped to 63 ± 33% in subsequent seasons. In months when households were not visited, use averaged only 34 ± 30%. Filter effectiveness did not vary in homes with central or room ACs. The study shows that measurements over multiple seasons are needed to characterize air quality and filter performance. The effectiveness of interventions using free-standing air filters depends on occupant behavior, and strategies to ensure filter use should be an integral part of interventions.

Practical Implications

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) increased particulate matter (PM) levels by about 14 μg/m3 and was often detected using ETS-specific tracers despite restrictions on smoking in the house as reported on questionnaires administered to caregivers. PM concentrations depended on season, filter usage, relative humidity, air exchange ratios, number of children, outdoor PM levels, sweeping/dusting, and presence of a central air conditioner (AC). Free-standing air filters can be an effective intervention that provides substantial reductions in PM concentrations if the filters are used. However, filter use was variable across the study population and declined over the study duration, and thus strategies are needed to encourage and maintain use of filters. The variability in filter use suggests that exposure misclassification is a potential problem in intervention studies using filters. The installation of a room AC in the bedroom, intended to limit air exchange ratios, along with an air filter, did not lower PM levels more than the filter alone.