By Steve Daniel
It’s an easy thing for your patients and clients to take for granted but something you likely think about daily: clean air. And the last year and a half has only reinforced the fact that sanitized air is a nonnegotiable expectation in every setting—particularly so in healthcare.
Depending on your challenges managing the COVID-19 pandemic, your organization may be looking at adding additional capabilities or upgrading the air cleaning systems in your facility. UVC light fixtures (ultraviolet light in the 200nm to 280nm wavelength range) are well-known and scientifically proven for their ability to inactivate viruses of all kinds, and they’re one of the best methods of ensuring clean air.
When you’ve decided to go the UVC route, you might understandably be challenged by the process of vetting all of the products and vendors offering UVC products. Note that some vendors are not as transparent as they should be, aiming to drive conversations and wow prospects with flashy, unsubstantiated features. It can be a headache-inducing process to find the best option for your facilities—and one that involves a sizable amount of research, time and money.
The most critical step in preparing for vendor meetings is compiling a list of questions in advance. UVC systems can be a very effective long-term clean air solution but can also require a sizable investment that should be investigated thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions; here are the top questions you might want to ask at your UVC vendor briefings:
1) Does their product use UVC light to clear viruses out of the air? SomeUVC light products are used indoors to clean surfaces when rooms are unoccupied, with different UVC products used to clean the air. Vendors should thoroughly explain how their products work to inactivate viruses in the air, and they should readily provide scientific lab results that confirm their specific product assertions.
2) Can people be in the room when the UVC product is being used? In occupied rooms,it is critical that theUVC light system prevent skin or eye exposure to the UVC light. Products using 222nm UVC bulbs claim that this wavelength of UVC light is safe for eyes and skin, but to date there has been limited testing, on animals only. If you are considering a UVC system to shower an unoccupied room with 254nm UVC light, be sure to ask about fail-safe features in case someone enters the room accidentally.
3) Does their product clean “all” of the air in the room? How often? It is important to clean all of the air in rooms, because aerosolized virus particles can float and drift around the room for hours. The most critical air in any indoor setting, however, is the air at head level—the air people are breathing. How close to the “point of infection” is the UVC light, and how does the product draw this critical air into the unit and at what air speed? If the system offers high-speed airflow through a UVC light, be sure that the UVC power is sufficient to inactivate the viruses, which need time exposed to the UVC light to be inactivated. Some systems move the air too quickly for the UVC light to be very effective.
4) Has their product been tested with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the air? Based on proven science, we know that UVC light will inactivate SARS-CoV-2 just as it does any other virus. However, very few vendors can provide proof that their specific product was tested using aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 virus in a reputable Level 3 bio-lab setting. Many vendors rely on old established studies that prove UVC will kill viruses but have not actually tested their product in a Level 3 lab. Ask for their testing reports.
5) What is their proven efficacy? There is a significant difference between a product that is 99.99% effective and one that is 99.9996% effective. Specifically, 99.999% efficacy is heading toward virus-free air, but small virus particles will still exist in the air. The efficacy claims should also provide the time required to achieve their results. You should get the absolute highest provable efficacy rate possible for your environment and investment.
6) How often do we need to replace filters or UVC bulbs? At what cost? Most UVC systems on the market today use mercury-vapor UVC bulbs to generate the UVC light. These typically have a short life and need to be replaced every six to nine months. The same is true for HEPA filters, which also need regular maintenance. Check the prices of the replacement bulbs and filters and the cost to install the replacements, including hazmat protocols for removing and disposing of contaminated waste. Ask the vendor to calculate the total costs for five and 10 years of operation.
7) How noisy (in decibels) is their product when in operation? All UVC systems operate with fans to move the air past the UVC light. The higher the air speed, the more noise is generated. It is a major consideration to add a new, constant level of noise in a facility. Any UVC system needs to operate while people are present, so it should be as quiet as possible. Ask for a report on fan speeds and decibels.
8) What is the price for each unit, and how much space (cubic feet) will it clean? Understanding that all of the air in a room needs to be cleaned, it is best to lay out the number of fixtures that will be needed in each space to achieve your air changes per hour goals. Every fixture has a finite amount of cubic feet of air it can process at any given time. This information will help you understand your total investment and what’s needed to ensure that the air in your entire facility is clean and stays virus free.
With the right questions ready in advance, meeting with vendors can be a smooth process. UVC light systems, especially some of the newer options on the market, offer an unmatched ability to sanitize the air in healthcare facilities, ensuring a worthwhile investment.
Steve Daniel is the President of UV Health Group, a Portland, Oregon-based designer and manufacturer of antimicrobial energy-efficient UV-C LED products for cleaning air in rooms when people are present. Steve has been designing and deploying UV-C light systems for commercial spaces and agriculture industries for the past 5 years.