In partnership with industry, University at Buffalo researchers are conducting one of the first scientific air-quality tests of "allergy-friendly" hotel rooms.
The project is expected to provide data applicable to other environments where indoor air quality is critical, such as in health-care facilities and aboard airplanes.
Using new "allergy-friendly" guest rooms in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott in Amherst as their laboratory, the Industry-University Center for Biosurfaces at UB (IUCB) is testing how novel cleaning processes and air-purification devices developed by five Western New York companies affect indoor air quality.
The study was facilitated by new monitoring equipment funded by a $1.27 million Capital Facility program grant from the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR) through the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.
While a small, but growing number of hotels offer allergy-friendly accommodations, little scientific evidence exists proving the effectiveness of such rooms.
The hotel industry and the companies that provide the allergy-friendly technologies are banking that scientific proof of the rooms' efficacy will appeal to the estimated 25 million Americans who suffer from allergies.
"These companies are anxious to demonstrate and confirm the scientific basis for their techniques and so are we, so that they can take their products to the next step commercially," said Robert Baier, Ph.D., executive director of the IUCB and UB professor of oral diagnostic sciences in the School of Dental Medicine.
The UB researchers measured more than 25 components of air quality inside each of four "allergy-friendly" rooms in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott, including large and small particles, volatile organic compounds, (chemical off-gassing), radon, ozone, carbon monoxide and viable and non-viable fungi. Continuous air monitoring on a minute-to-minute basis was conducted during the entire test period.
Measurements also were taken from a fifth standard room, which was used as a control.
Analytical techniques used on the samples retrieved from the rooms include infrared spectroscopy, which provides a chemical fingerprint, respirable particle counts, ozone measurements and scanning electron microscope pictures that can characterize samples particle by particle.
And since outdoor air is the source for indoor air, UB researchers also gathered data on the quality of air outside of the hotel.
"The quality of the outside air changes with each air mass or front that you always hear the weather forecasters talking about," said Baier. "Some of these fronts carry a lot of suspended fine particles, including bacteria or pollutants, but you won't know that until you're right in the middle of it, and the following air masses can last two to three days. Our goal with this project is to answer the question, 'Can we improve the inside air to a higher quality than the outside air?'"
In early analyses conducted in the treated rooms, breathable particle counts dropped by about 75%, from 2.5 million per cubic foot in one case to about 600,000, he said.
"Although the project is only in its early stages, preliminary results show that such dramatic reductions in suspended small particle concentrations can be attained and maintained in rooms outfitted with some of these devices and treatments," said Baier.
"In fact, we are hopeful that some of these successful interventions can be applied to controlling and improving the air quality in public-health facilities, as well, especially with regard to resisting cross-infections of patients and visitors," he said.
The researchers are analyzing their data and have engaged an outside accredited microbiology lab to work with them.
Baier noted that final results will be ready by the fall.
"Our goal is to apply the best science possible to this study," said Baier. "Not one of these companies could do this degree of comprehensive testing by itself, nor would its work be looked upon as independent and credible by the public. So just the fact that we've been able to create a comfort level at UB where industry is willing to join with us, defer to our judgment and abide by our findings is extremely positive."
"There has been incredible cooperation among the companies involved, UB and the Marriott," agreed David Gordon, chief executive officer of IntelliPure.
The Buffalo Niagara Marriott began renting the "allergy-friendly" rooms to guests in late June for about $10 more than the standard room rate, according to Richard Schroen, general manager.