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This NYC Luxury Building Has the Air-Purifying Power of 500 Trees

A new 25-story residential building in New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood is making headlines. Like so many new high-rises in downtown Manhattan, the cheapest available apartment at 570 Broome Street is listed for more than $1 million. But it’s not the price of the units in the building that has people talking — it's the material on its facade.

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The building’s exterior is coated with a spray-on solution called Pureti, which actively clears the air of pollution. According to Quartz, 570 Broome has enough Pureti to give it the air-purifying power of 500 trees, which is the equivalent of taking 2,000 cars off the road for a year.

Pureti’s main ingredient is titanium dioxide, a “photocatalytic” compound that reacts with ultraviolet rays to kickstart two different three-step chemical processes that convert harmful gases into harmless ones. These processes naturally repeat millions of times per second, effectively cleansing the air around the building.

The solution can be used on more than just buildings’ exteriors. Pureti spray has been developed for lighting fixtures, windows, fabrics, cars — anything that regularly gets direct exposure to light.

Titanium oxide-based photocatalytic technology has been in development since 2004, and numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness at chemically altering certain types of harmful particles; however, some more recent studies call into question the practicality of using such technologies on surfaces to combat air pollution.

A 2016 study on photocatalytic surfaces and nitrogen dioxide, a harmful gas, concluded that “it is not physically possible for large enough volumes of air to interact with the surface under normal atmospheric conditions.” Therefore, while these air-cleaning facades seem like a great idea, it’s unlikely they will “remove sufficient molecules” to impact the surrounding air quality.

The study also found that, over time, photocatalytic surfaces release harmful substances like nitrous acid and formaldehyde, which can negate the technology’s positive effects.

Just last year, French and Chinese scientists reported that, over time, titanium dioxide-based paints release carcinogenic compounds and nanoparticles into the air. Therefore, the technology’s current practicality for improving air quality is “dubious,” and “lots of effort is needed to make this technology viable for air quality improvement.”

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Despite the questions surrounding the efficacy of the technology, Pureti proponents are eager to see it used in cities across the world. Glen Finkel, the co-founder and president of Pureti, told Quartz that his product will soon be used on buildings in Spain, Argentina, and Turkey, and that he’s targeting China, Europe, Mexico, and the Middle East for future development.

Sustainable and green buildings are a particularly promising area for luxury real estate investors, veteran real estate broker Shlomi Reuveni told Mansion Global. “New technologies and sustainable technology will drive the market in years to come,” he said.

Tahir Demircioglu, the architect behind 570 Broome, views Pureti as “a win-win situation” for the environment and the real estate industry, as luxury developers in competitive markets with affordable housing crises like New York City look for ways to sell the peace of mind that comes with living in an eco-friendly building.

However, with the efficacy of high-profile sustainability technologies like Pureti still uncertain, it calls into question whether real estate developers actually have any interest in improving the environment, or whether they merely want to make their buildings seem eco-friendly.

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call on countries to provide clean air for their citizens. You can take action on this issue here.