Illustration for article titled Former CDC Director Under Trump Now Promoting Unproven Virus-Killing Tech for 'Big Ass Fans'

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The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Donald Trump, Dr. Robert Redfield, has landed a sweet gig at…Big Ass Fans.


Per Kaiser Health News (KHN), Redfield is now a strategic health and safety adviser for the company, effectively lending his scientific reputation to Big Ass Fans and the $9,450 ion-generating model it claims is 99.99% effective at sterilizing rooms from the coronavirus. Dr. Deborah Birx, the former coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, has signed on with a separate company called ActivePure which markets products that release small amounts of hydrogen peroxide as having a similar success rate. Experts told KHN that despite the endorsement from some of the nation’s highest-profile infectious disease specialists, these devices aren’t proven to work and similar ones have been shown to potentially generate harmful byproducts.

Some of Big Ass Fans’s Clean Air Systems models use sterilizing UVC light, which isn’t controversial and is widely deployed in sanitation. Others, according to KHN, use an unproven bipolar ionization technique that has been the subject of an Environmental Protection Agency warning and is viewed skeptically by scientists who study air quality. Such add-ons can cost $500 to $1,500 more than the company’s standard air-moving fans.

University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor Timothy Bertram told KHN that “it’s completely unproven whether these devices would work in a real-world setting.” He added his research has shown that ion-generating and hydroxyl-releasing products may create potentially harmful ozone or other small particles, and that tried-and-true air filtration tech is the most effective option.

“When they give you 99.999%, that’s a red flag to any scientist. We don’t know anything to that degree,” Bertram told KHN. “That’s just nuts.”

Brent Stephens, Illinois Institute of Technology civil, architectural and environmental engineering department head, and William Bahnfleth, Penn State architectural engineering professor, passed on concerns to KHN that Big Ass Fans tech wasn’t tested in proper environments mimicking real-world settings and didn’t adequately measure potential byproducts.

The EPA has warned that products using ion-generating or hydrogen peroxide “have a less-documented track record when it comes to cleaning/disinfecting large and fast volumes of moving air within heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems or even inside individual rooms.” The agency noted it couldn’t vouch for the products’ safety or efficacy, as well as the possibility it will create chemical byproducts. KHN wrote:

The EPA has warned about bipolar ionization’s ability to generate ozone and other potentially harmful byproducts indoors. A study by top indoor air quality experts in the Building and Environment journal found that another company’s bipolar ionization technology created other byproducts, including toluene, which can have developmental effects after long-term inhalation exposure.


KHN also wrote that Big Ass Fans spokesperson Alex Rises told them the Clean Air systems pair “scientifically proven air purifying technologies with powerful airflow solutions,” and that they don’t actually emit ozone or other byproducts. Similarly, CEO Joe Urso of ActivePure Technologies told the site that his company’s products only release gaseous hydrogen peroxide at a low level cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

“FDA has cleared a number of devices that emit hydrogen peroxide into the ambient air at a safe level for people to breathe, including our ActivePure Medical Guardian,” Urso told KHN.


As KHN previously reported, firms like Big Ass Fans and ActivePure are rushing to cash in on some $193 billion in federal funding for schools for pandemic-related infrastructural spending ranging from protective personal products and physical barriers to air filtration systems. So there’s a lot of money to be made promising the new tech is better than anything before.

While he’s cashing in on that boom, Redfield isn’t yet past his much-maligned handling of the pandemic under Trump. Earlier this year, he espoused a theory that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese research laboratory, which is not the mainstream view in virology circles. Rep. Jim Clyburn recently demanded Redfield testify as to whether he had a subordinate delete emails showing a Trump-appointed Health and Human Services official, Paul Alexander, attempting to interfere with CDC research on political grounds.


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