They say, "You can't offer a solution unless you understand the problem." For the built environment, destructive microorganisms such as bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi and yeast have been a very real and serious problem for a long time. In recent years, combating microorganisms in buildings has been stage-center among the concerns of building owners, architects, engineers, tenants and green building advocates.

In the natural environment, microorganisms play a key role in the decay and decomposition of organic matter, contributing significantly to the lifecycle of all living things that makes life on earth possible. However, in the built environment, microorganisms are the main culprit contributing to "sick building syndrome." Microbes present in ductwork, within walls, above ceilings, below floors, on and under surfaces, etc., cause billions of dollars in property damage and economic loss while remediation takes place to correct the problem. Microbes cause odors, stains, discoloration and corrosion to building elements, such as concrete, wood, steel, masonry, drywall, etc.

Understanding the problem and offering a solution is AgION Technologies Inc., of Wakefield, Mass., and its European counterpart AgION Technologies Europe, of Allschwill, Switzerland (near Basel). AgION Technologies is a biotech company intent on becoming the world leader in anti-microbial technology and products. The company's name is derived from the periodic table of the elements. Silver ("Ag") ions-the active ingredient-are combined (bonded) to an inorganic (inert) ceramic (zeolite) carrier. This combination forms the basis of the "inorganic anti-microbial" that AgION is. Silver ions in the AgION compound are released due to the presence of ambient moisture in air, which contains sodium ions. The sodium and silver ions are exchanged thus releasing the silver ions at a slow but steady rate over time-not all at once. Even in high-humidity environments, ideal for bacterial growth, silver/sodium ion exchange/release is increased but remains slow and limited enough to provide extended protection to an AgION treated surface. Depending on the thickness of the application and surface wear, lifecycle expectations for AgION treated surfaces are expected to be between 10 and 30 years.

Natural born killer

Ionic silver has a positive charge and it likes the sulfhydryl group of microbes. This positive charge disrupts electron (negative charge) transfer and respiration in the microorganism, in effect, suffocating the microbe to death. The silver ions also prevent cell replication and promote the destruction of the microbe's cell walls, the coup ‘dgrat. In recent years, bacteria and other microbes have become increasingly resistant to organic anti-microbials (anti-biotics). Since AgION is inorganic rather than organic, it is expected to be more potent as to its ability to inhibit microbes from developing resistant strains thus remaining effective throughout its lifecycle.

Intended for use in a wide variety of applications (fabrics, fibers, molded plastics, plastic films, metal coatings, etc.) for consumer goods, industrial products and medical devices, it has significant advantages over competing products lacking the AgION anti-microbial coating. Since AgION can tolerate temperatures as high as 800 degrees C, it can easily withstand and survive the high temperatures required in many manufacturing processes. AgION is effective against a wide variety of bacterium and microorganisms and remains so for a long period of time-it is even safe enough to come into direct contact with food.

Path of oaks

AK Steel Inc., a Fortune 500 company, was one of the first to recognize and demonstrate the effectiveness of AgION coated steel with its recently completed 11,000 square foot "AK Concept Home." Overlooking the scenic Simi Valley on 134 hillside acres just 17 miles northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Susana Mountains, the house was built to demonstrate the design flexibility of structural and cold-rolled steel and the benefits of anti-microbial coated steel products.

The area in which the house is situated was named "Camino de Robles" (Path of Oaks) by the original Spanish settlers because of the multitude of oak trees in the vicinity. AK Coatings Inc., a subsidiary of AK Steel, provided the AgION anti-microbial coating to all the flat-rolled stainless steel and carbon steel used in the building's construction.

AK Coatings uses a conventional coil coating process to apply the AgION that is blended into an epoxy resin and applied clear, tinted or fully pigmented. Out of the concept homes approximate 200,000 pounds of steel, 35,000 pounds received the AgION coating. Aside from AK Steel, about 20 companies provided products featured in the concept home-many with the AgION coating. In particular, the carbon steel used in the HVAC system, "high-touch" building elements such as doorknobs and kitchen appliances. Even the kitchen's ceiling panels received the AgION coating. Though the coating impedes bacterial growth significantly, it does not negate the need for ordinary maintenance and cleaning of surfaces regularly.

The concept home brought together a trinity of disparate parties that would at first appear to have little in common. Looking for the right project that would be demonstrative of steel's usefulness as a building material for residential construction and the benefits of the AgION coating, AK Steel chanced upon Architect David Martin's contest entry for a steel residential building. Martin and his firm are not residential architects per se (they were the architect for the Los Angeles City Hall). AK Steel liked the result and Martin's firm got the commission. In Ed and Madeleine Landry, prominent philanthropists residing in Northridge, Calif., they found an ideal client/occupant for the concept home.

The Landry's previous home was termite infested and damaged by the severe earthquake centered in Northridge several years earlier. Fumigation to rid the Landry home of termites resulted in a permanent asthmatic condition for Madeleine due to exposure to the fumigation chemicals. The Landry's desire was to relocate to a home, which would be "architecturally significant" but with minimal chemical exposure and lesser cleaning requirements so as not to aggravate Madeleine's condition. In October 2003, the concept home was debuted to the public and it became the official residence of the Landrys'. In its dramatic setting, the concept home is easy on the eyes. The roof and many other architectural elements are made from stainless steel, making it easier to maintain and insect/fire resistant; important considering its location.

Even better

Working with major corporations such as AK Steel, Dupont, Honeywell, etc., AgION Technologies has introduced its Upgrade Division to apply AgION technology to existing products and materials. In 2003, the historic 80-year-old, 28,000-square-foot Carpenter's Union Metropolitan Regional Council building located in center-city Philadelphia was the first building to be remedially treated to suppress mold and bacterial growth. AgION's TC-1000 Advanced Coating System was applied to the surface of all interior walls, ceilings and floors. The three-story building was in a chronic state of disrepair after being unoccupied for eight years.

This pilot project was to be the first to use the AgION technology for "on-site treatment" of existing surfaces for a wide variety of building types-hospitals, schools, hotels, office buildings and food processing facilities. On Sept. 16, 2003, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered AgION safe for "on-site treatment of In-Service Equipment (food collection, storage, processing, conveyance, transportation) and Building Materials (walls, floors and ceilings)." The EPA's registration of AgION for field coatings "on-site" is a first-in-class achievement for AgION. Not only the EPA but also the FDA and NSF International have recognized AgION as a "safe anti-microbial agent." Unlike organic anti-microbials, which are generally restricted based on building type and end-use, AgION is not. AgION TC-1000 system can be rolled or brushed onto a surface or spray-applied (airless). The coating itself is water based and air-dried.

The need to solve the problem of bacterial contamination in the built environment is paramount among the concerns of the green building movement, particularly where Indoor Air/Environmental Quality is the topic of conversation. AgION Technologies and its invention the AgION Anti-Microrganism Compound Coating System, is first and best at helping to solve this pervasive problem.