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Protecting our airports

Lifa Air has coordinated a pan-European project that has resulted in a new detection and filtration system for protecting airports against airborne chemical, biological, and radiological hazards known as AIRSECURE.

The two-year project, launched in September 2005, has resulted in a high-security detection and filtration solution to combat chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) threats. The modular AIRSECURE concept combines risk assessment with advanced detection and filtration, and can be easily integrated into existing air control systems.

The new system overcomes the problems associated with using traditional technology to provide high-efficiency filtration – which is generally recognised as the best protection against airborne CBR hazards – as this technology normally requires large and expensive modifications to existing air supply systems.

Working with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Lifa Air has developed advanced low flow resistance, high-efficiency supply air filters that are small and easy to install, yet still capable of removing both particulate and gaseous contaminants from supply air – without extensive modifications.

The new technology combines an electrostatically charged filter with a particle charging section and a gas filter made of activated carbon to create a unit that has hardly any impact on the airflow or pressure of an existing ventilation system.

The biological and chemical threat

The nature and degree of the hazard resulting from a biological or chemical attack depends on factors ranging from the type of agent involved and the amount released, the method of its dissemination, and its toxicity to its relative virulence during and after release, its dilution in the atmosphere, and the susceptibility of those exposed.

The AIRSECURE system has been designed to protect passengers and employees at airports from airborne biological, chemical, and radiological hazards reliably and cost-effectively.
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In the case of inhalation hazards, the danger is greatest when an infective agent reaches the target population in the form of particles small enough to penetrate the alveoli, typically below 5 microns in size. This type of hazard can be disseminated using explosives, spray units, or other generators designed to produce particles of the appropriate size.

Contact hazards take the form of chemicals applied either directly to people’s skin or to surfaces that people come into contact with and are then absorbed through the skin.

Reliable, user-friendly, and cost-effective

The advanced filtration and detection technology incorporated in the AIRSECURE system can control the spread of biological and chemical pollutants, whether naturally occurring or accidentally or intentionally released. The enhanced filtration it offers also removes outdoor pollutants, such as submicron particles, volatile organic compounds, odours, and ozone from the supply air – resulting in healthier indoor air generally.

Prior to site specification and installation, a risk analysis is carried out at a location to identify high-risk or potential weak points in an air management system. This is followed up by installing high-efficiency combined particulate and gas phase filtration units at selected points to provide continuous and effective protection.

Low-cost particle detectors are also installed to monitor the performance of the main filters and ensure a high level of protection at all times. Chemical detectors with centralised monitoring and alarm capabilities ensure a timely response to any imminent danger. Both types of detectors have very low false alarm rates and need little maintenance.

Airports and similar locations are very vulnerable to attack by airborne chemical, biological, and radiological agents. Improving protection against these hazards is a key security priority.

Airborne threats

Possible scenarios for terrorist-related chemical or biological attacks include the release of agents at various locations on the ground in an airport terminal or directly into the ventilation and air-conditioning systems serving these spaces. Agents can take the form of either fast-acting chemical agents or more slow-acting biological agents.

Fast-acting chemical agents that result in symptoms appearing within seconds or minutes include nerve agents and toxic industrial chemicals. Slow-acting biological agents that result in symptoms appearing after an incubation period of a few days range from the Veriolo virus that causes smallpox to anthrax spores.

A filtration expert

The new AIRSECURE system builds on Lifa’s expertise in efficient filtration systems. Typical of these products are the Lifa 3G Filter and the Lifa High Security Filter. Lifa also offers mobile units for hospitals and other emergency purposes, such as ambulances.

The multistage Lifa High Security Filter, for example, offers filtration efficiency in excess of 99.99% for 0.1 µm particles and 99.5% for gases. It does this by equipping an electrostatically charged filter with a particle-charging section and a gas filter made of activated carbon media. A nanoelectric UV light can be added to destroy any airborne viruses or bacteria, and even small molecules.

> Kimmo Haapalainen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2008)