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What the HEPA?

From PPE to PCR, WFH to N95 – these abbreviations are just a handful of what we’ve come to learn and use in our day-to-day language as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is one abbreviation though that while many of you may have heard of before, you may in fact know very little about what it means – that term is HEPA.

The quality of the air we breathe indoors is often the first thought that comes to mind when we think of the term HEPA – but what does it mean exactly and why is it important?

The term HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air (or in some cases, high-efficiency particulate absorbing or high-efficiency particulate arrestance). It is not so much an object or thing, but rather a term used to describe a standard with which air filtration should meet as set by the Canadian Standards Association. For a filter to be certified as True-HEPA, it must filter at least 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in diameter. In comparison, a single strand of human hair can range from 80 to 100 microns in diameter – several hundred times larger than the particles that a HEPA-grade filter will trap

The need for a filter of this standard dates back to the Second World War in an effort to protect troops from the use of chemical weapons on the Western Front. The filters were also developed to protect researchers working on the Manhattan Project – a United States Army initiative to develop the world’s first atomic weapon. Such a filter would protect against the inhalation of harmful radioactive particles released in handling unstable materials.

It was not until the 1950s that the term HEPA was trademarked and commercialized to create the modern-day filters we see in airplanes, HVAC units, medical settings, and closer to our hearts, vacuum cleaners.

This is welcome news for those who are prone to allergies or who suffer from asthma. The filtration system that comes standard on our Tennant True-HEPA Backpack Vacuum Cleaners traps fine particles such as pollen, skin cells, insect husks and dust mites known to cause flare-ups. To be effective, 100 percent of air expelled from the vacuum must have first passed through the filter, with no air able to travel past it. This is an important distinction to remember when comparing the options available on the market. Brands that promote their product as HEPA-like or HEPA-type may have an assembly that resembles a True-HEPA filtration system, but in fact, does not meet the standard of filter efficiency to be considered a True-HEPA product.

If you, your team, or loved ones at home have any respiratory sensitivities, insist that only HEPA-certified products be used to ensure the cleanest air. For more information on improving air quality indoors, visit the Health Canada website.

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