Kitchener-Waterloo

Medical grade air filters are the next pandemic product flying off the shelves

Waterloo-based Austin Air Canada says it's sold more than 6,000 HEPA air purifying units to schools across Ontario, and it's struggling to keep up with surging demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Waterloo-based company says it is struggling to keep up with demand

Alex Taylor, president of Austin Air Canada, says a shortage of air filters is "very, very serious" as temperatures drop and people want to spend more time indoors. (Submitted by Jenn Bourbonnais)

A Waterloo-based company says it's sold more than 6,000 HEPA air purifier units to schools across Ontario, and it's struggling to keep up with surging demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The shortage is very, very serious," said Alex Taylor, president of Austin Air Canada. "But it'll be dramatically worse once everyone moves inside." 

The devices, which are medical grade HEPA air filters, reduce the viral load of COVID-19 in a classroom, said Taylor. A four-year study of their product, following a gas leak in California, showed that devices had the effect of removing seven pupils from a classroom, he explained. 

Taylor said more than 15 school boards across Ontario have purchased units from Austin Air Canada, and "every day, more and more are direct contacting us trying to get units." 

A spokesperson for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board said it had purchased 1,100 units, with delivery slated to begin next week, as soon as they were manufactured.The Upper Grand District School Board is also a customer, said Austin Air. 

Outsourcing production

Although there are other air filter manufacturing companies in North America, Taylor said Austin Air is one of the few that produces its own filters and units at a 480,000 square foot facility in Buffalo, New York, and doesn't rely on any other countries to manufacture its products. 

"We've gone to the lengths of literally tearing out our executive offices just to put in assembly lines," he explained. 

The company is busy filling orders from more than 15 Ontario school boards, it says on its website its models appropriate for dealing with COVID-19 come with HEPA and carbon cloth or granular carbon filters. (Austin Air Systems)

But the surge in demand has Austin Air Canada considering, for the first time, outsourcing production to a Canadian partner so that the U.S. facility, which is part of a separate corporate entity, can focus on demand in America and other parts of the world.

Taylor said the backup strategy would ramp up production in Canada "quite quickly" if needed. Right now, the manufacturing facility is producing 1,000 units a week for Canada.

Interest for the units isn't just coming from school boards. Austin Air has supplied thousands of units to dentist and doctors' officers over the past few months, said Taylor, and he's expecting to see demand from restaurants, post-secondary institutions and long-term care facilities in the future too. 

"We tripled our capacity and we're still just able to meet demand," he said.

The company has stopped selling to partners in Europe and Asia. Even so, Taylor said "we'll be maxed out within a month."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Austin Air Canada had sold more than 4,000 air purifiers to between 10 and 15 Ontario school boards. A company spokerson later clarified they had underestimated their sales when speaking to the CBC and in fact had sold more than 6,000 units to more than 15 Ontario school boards at the time of the interview.
    Sep 23, 2020 3:20 PM ET

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