Here's the answer to that WTF: Selling air purifiers in California is a little complicated, because of a state regulation banning certain models that emit ozone. The California Air Resources Board calls ozone "a highly reactive, unstable, toxic gas" that can irritate and inflame the respiratory system and even cause permanent lung damage. CARB says ozone-generating air purifiers can produce several times the state's allowable levels.
Thus, the board maintains a list of potentially hazardous ozone-generating air cleaners that cannot be sold in the state, as well as a list of those that can. CARB updates the lists as frequently as each week.
The problem is would-be buyers were stymied even ordering models specifically certified as legal. On Tuesday, SFGate reported on the issue and got this statement from CARB:
"Amazon, unfortunately, has had problems shipping some CARB-approved air purifiers ... so until Amazon addresses this error, consumers may opt for another company to purchase from."
So on Wednesday, we asked Amazon: What gives?
“Air filters must meet the California Air Resources Board’s unique restrictions before they can be legally sold into the state," Erik Fairleigh, an Amazon spokesman wrote in an email. "As a result, we require suppliers to provide confirmation that air filters comply with the restrictions in order to be sold into California.”
Problem (Mostly) Solved
Well, in light of all this, we decided to run a little test. On Thursday, we selected a sample of 10 top-rated, CARB-approved air purifiers, each with at least 400 reviews from Amazon customers. (Here's the Amazon search we did to find our 10.) Then we went through the ordering process for each. Of those 10, Amazon allowed seven to be shipped to a San Francisco address, and only three, all made by Honeywell, evoked the dreaded "can't ship" message. Amazon's Fairleigh also sent us a list of about 40 models he said Californians could successfully buy.
Meanwhile, Hersh provided us with the links to four Honeywell models she had sent to Amazon last Friday as examples of state-approved models that California customers couldn't get shipped to them. On Thursday -- yesterday -- 2 of the 4 that had been previously unshippable were now good to go. So that is progress.
If you still can't find an air purifier locally, give it another try online. Even as late as yesterday, purifiers remained a hot item in the region. On the Best Buy website, a small sampling of air purifiers we looked at were listed as available in each and every Bay Area store no sooner than Oct. 28.