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Sankei Shimbun Jan. 6, 2005
Asthma And Vacuum Cleaners
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Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Are Late To Introduce Measures To Protect People Who Suffers From Asthma, Prefer To Focus On Other Aspects Such As "Lightness"

Last year, Mrs. Yukiko Kawada (not her real name) from Nagoya city, purchased a new vacuum cleaner. Her daughter is 4 years old and was diagnosed as suffering from asthma. The doctor said, "Try your best to avoid and remove allergens such as dust and dust mites." She thought, "I had better buy a good vacuum cleaner as soon as possible."

She bought a vacuum cleaner from one of the major corporations, that advertised their product as having "no exhaust", and "protect the health of your child." However, after about a month, the daughter experienced the worst asthma attack ever.

Surprised, Mrs. Kawada checked a report about vacuum cleaners. She found information in a magazine from an organization she is a member of. The report pointed out that air filled with dust was re-emitted from the area around the wheels of the model she had bought.

"I can't say my daughter's asthma attack was caused only by this vacuum cleaner. But since I was led to believe that the machine re-emits no exhaust, I didn't mind when my daughter walked behind the vacuum cleaner, as I was using it. I had swallowed the advertising message - hook, line, and sink! Since asthma attacks can lead to death, and it had such terrible effect, they should not advertise in a way that misleads consumers: as if their product is good for allergy patients."

The organization that published the report is Tokyo-based Japan Offspring Fund (JOF). Since the spring of 2004, JOF has consistently warned about problems with vacuum cleaners. JOF tested the different vacuum cleaners on the market, using a particle counter. This type of measuring device can detect the amount of dust particles in air, ranging in size from 0.3 microns. The result? JOF found that vacuum cleaners generally re-emit a lot of dust, with some re-emitting over 2,000,000 dust particles per liter air. Only one machine that JOF tested re-emitted zero particles.

Since these experiments were not carried out in a laboratory, the data is not official. However, the organization could determine the amount of particles in a room, then measure the number of particles re-emitted from each vacuum cleaner. A model that had fewer particles re-emitted during vacuuming was considered as having "passed" the test. The only model that had zero dust particles re-emitted was the Swedish vacuum cleaner Electrolux Oxygen.

Mrs. Harue Maruta, who did the testing for JOF, explains: "We thought that a vacuum cleaner would make the room clean, but in fact, we were surprised how polluted the room becomes."

"Asthma usually stops if dust and other air-borne particles are below a certain level in a room. A good vacuum cleaner should clean the room where there is bedding and carpets. This is better than having to resort to medical treatment or drugs."

Dr. Hirohisa Saito, director of the department of allergy and immunology at Japan's National Research Institute for Child Health and Development points out that proper cleaning is really important for patients suffering from allergies.

In addition, he explains: "The arms and legs of crushed dead dust mites are the most serious problem. The size of such particles is usually around 0,3 microns. They are detected by the particle counter. If such particles are re-emitted in large quantities into the air of the room, cleaning actually means you are in fact scattering and spreading around a lot of allergens."

In order to prevent allergies, the performance of Japanese vacuum cleaners is not good. There is a performance index, and it shows that there is a problem with increased noise as the suction power of a machine is increased. The laboratory which offers this data is the Institute for Healthy Lifestyle Research Inc. in Chiba prefecture. Its director, Mr. Hitoshi Fukuzawa says: "If the filter is too good, the air will not pass through, and suction power will drop. Therefore, the manufacturers have designed the bodies of the vacuum cleaners in such a way, that air will pass through and be re-emitted through other holes."

In response to this, the spokesman for a major home appliance manufacturer says: "The exhaust air that comes out from other holes than the air exit has actually passed through a filter." In addition, "to design a machine with zero dust particles is possible, but it increases the weight. In Japan, lightness is required. Also, the price is a factor, and if a vacuum cleaner is too expensive, it cannot survive on the market," he added. "In total our product wins, but if judged only on the cleanliness of the re-emitted exhaust air, there is a difference."

The houses we live in are becoming increasingly air-tight. There are more and more dust mites. Also, peoples' respiratory systems have become weaker due to air conditioning and heating. Another factor leading to an increasing number of allergic patients is the change in the environment of our homes. School hygiene statistics according to the Ministry of Education (2004) shows that asthma among elementary and junior high school students has become twice as common compared to 10 years ago. This has led to an increase in the demand for vacuum cleaners. A new type of vacuum cleaner has even been developed, introducing a "cyclone system" that separates dust by centrifugal force. Also, such machines are usually equipped with air filters at the air exit. Makers have really made an effort to find a solution to the suction/power problem.

It is not possible for consumers to get this kind of data on air quality or dust or dust mite particles. Thus, when buying vacuum cleaners in a shop or from a catalogue, consumers cannot compare different models. Mrs. Maruta, who did the tests at Japan Offspring Fund, comments: "For the benefit of all mothers and the children who by all means need to know this, and who has serious health problems, we will continue providing this kind of information, so that consumers will be able to choose."

(Translated by Japan Offspring Fund)

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