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Covid-19 Shining Light on UV

From front line hospitals to residential HVAC, the search for disinfecting solutions to mitigate risks is leading some to ultra violet systems.


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June 19, 2020 by Aaron Engel

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on humanity, but it has also illustrated the adage “chaos breeds innovation.”

Hospitals in North America, overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and faced with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), have developed their own innovations to disinfect and reuse N95 masks and other medical protection.

Doctors and healthcare managers began ordering UV (ultraviolet) lamp systems to convert hospital refrigerators, cabinets and other containers into make-shift disinfection chambers for reusing PPE due to shortages.

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Hospital refrigerator converted to UV disinfecting unit.

Working for a manufacturer of indoor air quality (IAQ) equipment, including UV systems for HVAC units, ductwork and environmental surface disinfection systems (ESDS), our team was able to take dimensions of the various chambers and provide the most effective UV output using modeling software.

Puzzled how doctors were making the connection of UV-C’s virus inactivation capabilities with PPE disinfection, our executives discovered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued its guideline document “Crisis Standards of Care Decontamination Recommendations” on April 9. One recommended alternative cited a 2018 American Journal of Infection Control article “Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation of Influenza-Contaminated N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFR)” to disinfect PPE for reuse.

The 2018 article’s researchers custom-built a deactivation chamber using Fresh-Aire UV’s high output UV-C lamp system. The conclusion stated that one to five-minute (depending on chamber size) UV-C exposures were effective in disinfecting N95 respirators for reuse during pandemic shortages.

Consequently, UV equipment sales have been strong throughout the pandemic as manufacturers like us, HVAC distributors and contractors battle to keep pace with the increasing demand for institutional, commercial and residential systems.

Besides lamp systems, the most popular requests during the crisis have been UV-C surface disinfection for offices, exam spaces and patient rooms; commercial UV systems for disinfecting the airflow and interior surfaces of air handlers and ductwork; and single lamps and combination UV/activated carbon media systems for residential HVAC equipment.

IAQ Focus Beneficial During COVID-19 Crisis

Consequently, many HVAC contractors are on pace to sell and install more residential UV systems. Distributors have also seen an increased interest in UV.

For example, UV sales for Action Furnace in Calgary surged 85% throughout March, April and May, according to Eric Parcels, service manager, who attributed the increase to Alberta’s 6,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 120 deaths through mid-May, third highest number of cases among the provinces.

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With locations in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Action Furnace has placed a focus on residential indoor air quality.

Parcels didn’t anticipate a pandemic, but coincidentally had already been developing an IAQ niche for the 45-year-old residential HVAC contractor. For the past year the company has been adding products such as UV lights, based on previous experiences promoting UV disinfection products at Parcels’ former HVAC contractor employers in Ontario and Florida.

The year-long IAQ niche preparation put the company and its two other branches in Edmonton and Red Deer in the right place when COVID-19 news hit Alberta in late February.

Consequently, technicians in the company’s fleet of 25 service and maintenance vehicles were ready to install and promote UV products when consumer interest increased. Crews install two types of UV systems. One is a single low-voltage one-year or two-year UV bulb installed near an air handler’s evaporator coil.

Customers opting for a more comprehensive system get an APCO-X air purifier, manufactured by Fresh-Aire UV. The APCO-X is a combination UV and activated carbon media air treatment system that inactivates biological contaminants and adsorbs gaseous contaminates such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the airstream.

Action Furnace is promoting UV as a disinfectant for viruses, but doesn’t name COVID-19 specifically, because there are no studies yet proving UV’s effectiveness inactivating this novel version of the coronavirus.

However, there are ample studies proving UV’s effectiveness against viruses and similar coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Therefore, the company promotes IAQ in general with 30-second radio spots and mailers to customers.

“We don’t mention COVID-19, but we do mention studies that have proven UV 99.9% effective against viruses,” said Parcels.

Action Furnace has also trained service techs to promote IAQ using a 30-minute air quality monitor collection process executed during routine service calls. A summarizing read out informs customers about the amount of non-biological contaminants found in the air, such as CO2 or VOCs. The air analysis helps customers decide whether an air treatment system would be effective for them. The readouts are later recorded on customer invoices for follow up during the year.

Action Furnace has stocked the monitors on five of its 15 service trucks and hopes to fully roll out the program to the 10 remaining service vehicles along with five maintenance trucks.

As noted, because of its sudden emergence, there’s no published data of UV-C’s effectiveness or dosage for inactivating COVID-19. However, a 2004 study “Inactivation of the Coronavirus that Induces Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS-COV” published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has proven UV-C’s success with SARS.

Furthermore, our own third-party testing has also included viruses. One study simulated airstream microbe inactivation in an ASTM/AHAM style environmental test chamber simulating a typical building’s indoor environment and HVAC air handler arrangement. Performed in an ASHRAE Standard 52.2 test duct system, the test’s UV-C light single-pass results demonstrated a 99.03% inactivation of the virus (MS2 coliphage).

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Close-up of a refrigerator converted with a UV lamp for disinfecting PPE in a hospital.

The chaos of COVID-19 has led to innovation at hospitals and among manufacturers as well. We are now developing UV-C lamp chambers called Blue-Cube UV to disinfect medical equipment that will help relieve the pressure on N95 mask supply. The company has also introduced a portable UV/HEPA filter combination unit that can be placed in rooms where COVID-19 eradication is critical.  <>

Aaron Engel is vice president of business development at Fresh-Aire UV (www.freshaireuv.com). Engel can be reached at aaron@freshaireuv.com or 800-741-1195.