Allergy Standards aims to set new benchmark for good air quality

Two decades after starting a business to certify allergy-safe products, Dublin doctor John McKeon has now expanded the company’s remit to include improving the indoor air environment

14th January, 2022
Allergy Standards aims to set new benchmark for good air quality
John Ryan and John McKeon of Allergy Standards: ‘If you have a respiratory allergy, you need products that are at a level below minimum safety standards to make them suitable for you. What we’ve done is develop a level of sensitivity below the industry norms, so the products meet higher standards.’ Picture by Fergal Phillips

More than 20 years ago, while working as an emergency paediatric physician in a Dublin hospital, John McKeon noticed a worrying trend.

Parents were coming into the hospital complaining that their child had an allergic reaction to dust or was sensitive to chemicals contained in everyday products like textiles and they wanted to know if there were better brands to choose from.

McKeon decided to do something about it, and came up with the idea of developing a set of product standards that would give consumers information about whether products met certain criteria in the realm of respiratory protection.

More than 20 years later, Allergy Standards, the company he established, is still growing based on the same core idea that motivated its foundation.

“If you have a food allergy, or if you’re a vegan, you want something that’s clearly identifiable as not containing allergens or animal products,” John Ryan, a director in the company since 2017, said.

“But there wasn’t anything like that in the area of respiratory allergies, or asthma. So John’s idea was to develop technical standards and to put a certification mark on them so people could see which products met those standards.”

Allergy Standards has amassed a lengthy list of clients across a range of industries including makers of washing machines, air filters and vacuum cleaners. Dyson, Dulux and LG are just three of the global companies that use Allergy Standards to test and certify their products.

But the firm, which is supported by Enterprise Ireland and mostly operates in the US market, has now expanded its vision “beyond allergy certification and into general good air quality,” Ryan said.

It divides its business into three broad categories. It develops technical standards, performs product testing for certification purposes, and licenses intellectual property to its clients.

“Products like paint are heavily regulated already, so lots of the chemicals and volatile organic compounds can’t be used,” Ryan said. “But if you have a respiratory allergy, you need products that are at a level below minimum safety standards to make them suitable for you. What we’ve done is develop a level of sensitivity below the industry norms, so the products meet higher standards.”

In 2019, the company won an innovation award from the American Chamber of Commerce due to the standards it had developed. Now it is looking ahead with optimism, having recently started an online academy to educate businesses about the importance of good indoor air quality.

Allergy Standards currently employs nine people directly and outsources some testing work. “Our vision for the next five years is to double the business, and then double it again,” Ryan said.

“We’re particularly focused on online education, which will add to the services we offer and help brands connect better with their customers.”

While Covid-19 presented operational challenges to the company, it also resulted in people understanding the importance of good air quality, Ryan said.

“Everyone has become aware of the necessity for cleanliness when it comes to our air. For consumers, the desire for traceability, transparency and ethical production is bigger than ever. It’s a growing market and it’s only getting bigger.”

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