The Different Levels of Air Purity and the Processes that Require Them

According to the World Health Organization, poor air quality kills an estimated seven million people globally each year. If you needed a single statistic to help underline why air purity is critically important, let it be that one.

Poor air quality is everywhere – from smoke or carbon monoxide in homes to the smog that pollutes major cities. It’s also an issue that contributes to a wide range of conditions like strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and even respiratory infections.

Air quality is also critically important when it comes to manufacturing or other industrial environments, particularly as it relates to the use of equipment like air compressors. All told, the different levels of air purity are something that all professionals should know – and they should also become familiar with the processes that require them.

Air Purity and Compressed Air: Breaking Things Down

To get a better understanding of why air purity is so important in terms of compressed air, one only needs to look at the various environments where it is used. In addition to being common fixtures in places like body shops and other automotive environments, compressed air is also regularly employed during the production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and even in the food and beverage industry. It’s also a common source of medical breathing air in hospitals and other healthcare environments.

The issue is that if compressed air is allowed to become contaminated with oil, dust or other particles, it won’t just harm a business’ ability to operate – it could drive up costs and make people sick at the exact same time.

One of the regulations that is used to govern air purity – and to help keep environments as safe as possible – is called ISO 8573.1. Created in 1991 by the International Standards Organization (ISO), it’s been an invaluable tool in terms of not only selecting the appropriate air compression system given the application, but also for the design and measurement of those systems as well.

ISO 8573.1 establishes a variety of air quality levels, and also offers various testing methods that can be used in real-world environments to adequately measure the level of contaminants in the air. It contains three purity classes:

  • Solid particles as they relate to the size and volume of those particles.
  • Humidity and liquid water.
  • Oil.

From there, it breaks things down into a series of 10 levels ranging from 0 to 9. Level 0 is the strictest, while Level 9 tends to be the most relaxed.

Again, the actual application of the ISO 8573.1 standard will largely vary depending on the industry. In the food and beverage industry, for example, any solid contaminants must be removed from any air that is being used for food processing. If particles are left to accumulate unchecked, it could damage equipment used to sanitize surfaces or to prepare food in a safe and healthy way.

It’s also interesting to note that some industries have gone above and beyond even that which is dictated by ISO 8573.1. The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers, for example, exceeds those requirements outlined by the standard in all clean room environments. It’s also noted that the microbiological and particle quality of that air, once it has gone through the filtration process, should be at least equal to – if not better than – the quality of the area in the environment where the air compressor is being used.

Note that the ISPE also recommends that pharmaceutical manufacturers who are not using oil-free air compressors also need to be proactive about monitoring their air for hydrocarbon contamination. Too much of this aerosol-based contaminant can eventually turn to liquid oil, which may inadvertently trigger an entire system shutdown.

These standards are also a big part of the reason why air filters and air filtration systems are such an essential component of commercial grade air compressors. They not only capture these types of particles, but they allow operators to dispose of them safely as well.

Particular air compressor filters, also referred to as dry filters, trap and store corrosive or solid particles from the air during the compressor’s use. Coalescer filters, on the other hand, are used to eliminate water, oils and even aerosols. Absorber filters help to remove gas-based vapors by bonding with them via an absorbing agent. The type of air filter you need will depend on what you’re using your air compressor for, along with the best practices of the industry you’re operating in.

If you’d like to find out more information about the different levels of air purity and the processes that require them, or if you have any additional questions that you’d like to get more detailed answers to, please don’t delay – contact JHFOSTER today.