As cities, counties, and states begin to re-open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities managers are being bombarded with information about ultraviolet (UV) disinfection. You may be asking yourself, what is it? How can it be used? What are its limitations?
This article provides some guidance and will help you start to imagine how you can leverage UV disinfection to safely operate your facility.
What is ultraviolet disinfection lighting?
UV disinfection refers to ultraviolet light. If you think back to your high school science classes, you may remember that there are different wavelengths of light. Some wavelengths we can see with the naked eye – this is called the “visible light spectrum.” Some wavelengths we can’t see, such as radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, ultraviolet, and infrared.
All of these wavelengths represent different types of energy, and amazingly, humans have found uses for all of them. The ultraviolet spectrum has been further broken down into categories such as UV-C, UV-B, UV-A, and Near UV. For disinfection purposes, they work differently and have different roles.
UV-C light causes chemical reactions in microbial DNA and RNA, which prevents them from reproducing and eventually kills the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that it comes in contact with. UV-C is very effective, but generally can’t be used while an area is occupied. UV-A light causes proteins and fats in the microbe to break down, resulting in microbial cell death. UV-A light can be used in occupied areas and is well known to kill various bacteria but is still being studied to understand its impact on viruses. Near UV blue light prevents bacterial growth by increasing the growth of reactive oxygen species, which are toxic to bacterial cells. It is also safe to use in occupied areas.
Is ultraviolet disinfection lighting safe?
Like all disinfection methods, UV lights must be used in accordance with manufacturer instructions to be safe. When these types of lights are used properly, they have a long track record of effectively and safely neutralizing microbes that make people sick. For example, UV light has been used to disinfect drinking water in Europe for over 100 years and has been used to sterilize juices in the United States for nearly 20 years.
There is additional comfort in knowing that UV technology is heavily regulated in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
When should the different types of ultraviolet disinfection lighting be used?
Now you might be wondering how UV-C light — which is known to neutralize the broadest spectrum of harmful microbes — can be used in areas where it is needed if it can’t be used when the area is occupied.
Product manufacturers have come up with several solutions to address this challenge.
- UV-C lights can be paired with timers and occupancy sensors so that they disinfect the room during times when they are not in use and automatically shut off if someone inadvertently enters the room.
- The second method is to use mobile units that can be placed in a room while it is not in use, the operator leaves the room, and then the light does its job.
- The third option is to use products where the UV-C light is enclosed in such a way that it does not escape the unit. For example, there are air circulating ceiling troffers that pull the air in a room into the enclosed UV disinfection unit, sanitize it, and then force the clean air back into the room.
Why would anyone use UV-A or Near UV lights then, you are surely asking yourself? Because both UV-A and Near UV wavelengths are safe to use in occupied spaces, they provide continuous disinfection benefits. Sanitization is taking place throughout the day, with no disruption to work or leisure activities in the area. They also require no labor cost to get the continuous disinfection benefit.
UV disinfection does not replace standard cleaning procedures and necessary personal hygiene practices. It is meant to complement those efforts during a time when additional sanitization is needed to provide safe working conditions and instill confidence in employees and customers.
Many organizations may need more than one type of UV disinfection and may choose several types of products that complement each other.
Ready to bring the benefits of UV disinfection to your facility?
As businesses begin to open back up, facility managers are considering new technology to keep employees and customers safe. WESCO Energy Solutions works as a partner to understand your specific needs and develop a customized solution that fits your organization and budget.
Because there is a high demand for these products, we highly recommend reaching out as early as possible so that we can help secure the right products for your project as quickly as possible.