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O’Fallon declines use of ionization/ozone units to neutralize COVID-19 virus

In an effort to neutralize virus cells, bacteria and particulates in city buildings, city staff recommended, at the Oct. 22 O’Fallon City Council meeting, the installation of Trane Plasma Air Bipolar Ionization units in eight city buildings: Krekel Civic Center, O’Day Lodge, City Hall, the Senior Center, the Justice Center, the Renaud Center, CarShield Field and the Veterans Museum.

The total cost of $129,650 would be paid by the city, but if the units were installed and operational by no later than Dec. 31, 2020, those funds would be reimbursed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The staff suggestion went before the council as Resolution 10-22-2020E.

Before the vote for its passage, council member Jeff Kuehn (Ward 4) provided several insights. In his “day job” Kuehn works for Engineering Systems, Inc. (ESi). He is a licensed professional engineer in 25 states plus one Canadian province. One of his areas of specialization is heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Kuehn began by praising and thanking city staff for “proactively bringing forward a way to keep city buildings, employees and citizens safe.”  He then explained his view that “using a system where ozone is involved would not be a good idea, because ozone is harmful to health, especially in the respiratory tract.” He said the proposal materials mentioned testing, “but that was done in Spain, not the U.S.”

Jeff Kuehn addressing the council Oct. 22 (O’Fallon TV image)

Kuehn said the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) since 1992 has cautioned against the use of ionization/ozone systems.

He explained that in his experience, “it is better to retrofit HVAC systems to use much higher-quality filtration to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”  He said that is exactly what he did, in fact, having designed and installed such filtration systems in 15 ESi buildings across the U.S.  “The filtration systems are safer and more cost-effective,” he said.

Kuehn clarified that he has designed a number of medical facilities and hospitals rooms, and none of them used this type of (ionization) filtration.  “That speaks volumes, because if this type of system were effective, you would see in in a lot of medical facilities,” he said.

He closed by offering his help and expertise to city staff for pursuit of an appropriate high-quality filtration system instead of the proposed ionization/ozone units. He also recommended denial of the resolution.

Mayor Bill Hennessy said he understands where Kuehn is coming from, but he was going to rely on Mr. (Mike) Leonard (facility maintenance manager) and the research he had done. Hennessy reminded all council members that the city would be reimbursed under the CARES act. He said he fully supported the resolution.

Council member Jim Ottomeyer (Ward 4) said the science behind whether or not ionization kills COVID-19 is a little questionable. He said there is some research for it and some against it. Ottomeyer said he cannot condone the city spending $130,000 on something that is not absolutely proven. 

Council member Katie Gatewood (Ward 5) asked Leonard whether or not they had looked at the high-end filtration systems described by Kuehn.  Leonard explained that their mechanical contractor had brought in Trane, who is supposed to be an expert in these types of systems, and Trane recommended the ionization system. 

Gatewood then asked if this could be delayed in order to learn more about the filtration systems. 

“We could, but then the system would be on our dime,” Leonard said. “We would not be able to receive CARES Act funds if the system is not operational by Dec. 31.”

Based on a roll-call vote, Resolution 10-22-2020E was denied by the council.  “Yes” votes included council members Dave Hinman (Ward 1) and Deana Smith (Ward 1), and Tom “Duke” Herweck (Ward 2). “No” votes included Lisa Thompson (Ward 2), Dale Kling (Ward 3) and Nathan Bibb (Ward 3), Kuehn and Ottomeyer, Debbie Cook (Ward 5) and Gatewood.

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