Molecular Air Filtration in Life Sciences & Healthcare

Created Thursday, April 29, 2021

The increase in respiratory illnesses caused by worsening air quality coupled with significant advances in pharmaceutical and medical device technology means the need for cleaner air in processes and facilities in the life sciences and healthcare industries has never been more critical. In addition to more stringent particulate filtration (e.g.- HEPA) requirements, these environments often require the removal of molecular- or gaseous – contaminants.


Fumes from automobile, ambulance and helipad activity can work their way into the supply air of hospitals. Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone – which are formed when UV light reacts with exhaust combustion gases- are designated as “Criteria Air Pollutants” by the Environmental Protection Agency because they are respiratory irritants that can cause reduced lung function and even premature death. It is critical that these contaminants are effectively removed by molecular filters to protect vulnerable hospital occupants. 


In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a technology that enables a human embryo to be created outside the mother’s body. The laboratory environment where this process takes place must be absolutely pristine to ensure success. A study performed in 2010 by Dr. Antonia Gilligan proved that by removing particles <0.3 micron in size, as well as gaseous contaminants such as aldehydes, styrene, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from building materials and lab equipment, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone, in vitro fertility rates, can be improved by as much as 14%1. A filtration system comprised of HEPA and broad-spectrum and targeted molecular media ensures the removal of these contaminants.


Surgical suites are sterilized between every procedure typically with hydrogen peroxide gas. In order to ensure it is safe for occupants to reenter the room, the gas must be completely removed. Molecular filters set up in a recirculation system or air cleaner can quickly and effectively bring these gases to safe levels and maximize facility utilization.

Pharmaceutical process equipment requires decontamination with hydrogen peroxide, and medical devices that cannot tolerate heat, abrasives or moisture (e.g. bandages, sutures, catheters, syringes, optical devices, endoscopes) require sterilization with ethylene oxide. Some life sciences processes utilize peracetic acid for decontamination, and it, along with hydrogen sulfide, can pose corrosion risks to electronic equipment. In all cases, these toxic and corrosive gases can be captured with targeted media in the appropriate recirculation and/or exhaust systems.


Odors generated in cafeterias and by cleaning products can be carried throughout recirculation systems as well as along corridors in hospitals. Even more pungent are formaldehyde, ammonia, and other decomposition gas odors emitted from the morgue. 

In pharmaceutical production, strong flavoring additives, as well as hydrogen disulfide process gases, can cause strong and/or unpleasant odors even in very low concentrations.

In all cases, molecular filters designed to target these gases are effective in minimizing these nuisances to occupants and neighbors.

The following table summarizes the most prevalent gaseous contaminants in these applications:

The table shows indoor and indoor contaminant sources and chemicals.


Molecular (also called “gas-phase,” “chemical” or “carbon”) air filters utilize a technique known as adsorption. In simple terms, this means that the molecules adhere to or react with adsorbent materials that have extremely high surface areas. Molecular air filters utilize activated carbon for broad-spectrum VOC removal as well as impregnated carbon or alumina for targeted removal of specific gases. 

Camfil offers a variety of molecular filtration products that can be adapted to suit any process and application depending on the specific requirement. Sometimes, multiple stages of molecular filters are needed to capture different types of molecules in the same application. The type of filter used is based primarily on the types and concentrations of the gas and the desired system lifetime. 

  • Heavy concentrations of gases: deep bed, loose-fill filters
    ProCarb deep bed scrubbers

It is essential that any system specified meets standards ISO 10121 and ASHRAE 145.2, which ensure performance has been validated with actual process gases under realistic operation conditions.

For life sciences and healthcare applications, the right molecular filtration solution can ensure safe processes and compliance with local regulations as well as maximum efficiency and profitability.

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