Ask the Psychologist Issue #9: Researchers Studying Ultraviolet Technology to Dampen Virus

Much of the article below was originally Published in the Pittsburg Post Gazette by DON HOPEY)

Based on current research, the below information is something that should be explored for a safe return of students to schools. If “far UVC light” it is safely developed, students can return to school with no changes from past school procedures. Hopefully, it can be made safe for people and deadly to virus and bacteria in a room. I suggest that school superintendents contact the scientists below and if they state it is a safe solution to getting students back to school, then the schools can request government funding to pay for all the installations by the fall of 2020. If we can put people in space, why can’t we put students back in school with minimal classroom distractions?

Below is information on  scientific research that involves a spectrum of ultraviolet light — called “far-UVC light” — that kills the virus but doesn’t harm humans.

Use of far-UVC lamps, which provide little if any actual light, could eventually allow treatment of air and surfaces in many occupied indoor spaces, including hospital and school rooms, that would greatly reduce the viral exposure for students, teachers, patients and medical personnel, and speed sterilization of the rooms and  equipment. Dr David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics and director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University in New York City has been working on this project.

“What we have developed is a particular UV wavelength region, around 222 nano-meters, which is as effective as conventional germicidal UV at killing viruses and bacteria but is also safe for human exposure,” Dr. Brenner said in an email response to questions. “So it can be used in occupied public spaces.”

Conventional, longer wavelength ultraviolet light has been used very effectively for more than a century to decontaminate air, water and surfaces in unoccupied indoor spaces. But it can cause cancer and cataracts in humans exposed to it.

The shorter wavelength far-UVC light can’t reach or damage living human cells, but can penetrate and kill the very small viruses and bacteria floating in the air or on tables and other surfaces.

Dr. Brenner said overhead far-UVC lights “could be used in any indoor location where people congregate,” including in hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, airports, airplanes, trains, buses and other public spaces, and could help block the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Brenner said his team of researchers has been working for five years on development of far UVC lighting with a focus on its safety and effectiveness. Similar development is taking place in Japan, he said.

A 2018 study headed by Dr. Brenner and published in the peer-reviewed, on-line journal Scientific Reports, found that continuous low doses of far-UVC light can kill airborne viruses without harming human tissues, and inhibit seasonal influenza epidemics, as well as influenza pandemics.

The new far UVC lamps, in production by Ushio America Inc. and Eden Park Illumination, are not yet approved for medical uses but could be soon.

“The two roadblocks are ramping up to high capacity production and (Food and Drug Administration) approval,” Dr. Brenner said. “A couple of weeks ago my best guess for both might be nine months but we are now trying to go faster than that.

Late last month the FDA issued an advisory that clears the way for use of sterilizer and disinfection devices, including the far-UVC lamps, in hospitals and other public health settings during the unique coronavirus pandemic and prior to formal FDA approval.

Dr. David Atcheson, a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Pittsburgh, said its past time to accelerate the UVC approval process and utilize the technology.

“We need someone to push this technology along, someone to shine a light onUV light,” Dr. Atcheson said. “We need to get these lights out there and in use sooner than nine months from now.”

Ryan Olsen, eastern regional sales manager at Ushio America, a subsidiary of Tokyo, Japan-based Ushio Inc., said the far-UVC lamps have been in limited production since 2018 but the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened interest from medical facilities. He said the lamps, which Ushio sells as components to production companies and not to the public, use a special filter to ensure no harmful wavelengths are emitted.

“We are ramping up production and working quickly now because we see the benefits of this type of lighting,” Mr. Olsen said. “While (far-UVC) light does significantly reduce the amount of influenza and other viruses and pathogens on surfaces and in air, these issues will still be a fact of life … just hopefully not in the severity we see them today.”

Cy Herring, Eden Park’s president, said the Champaign, Ill., company has been working with Dr. Brenner on a National Institutes of Health contract focusing on UV lights, and has been producing a small number of the far-UVC lamps for industrial applications since 2018.

“Now there’s a big interest from the healthcare industry that’s vastly larger than it was a couple of months ago, and that’s been reflected in our orders,” Mr. Herring said,

The lights are not cheap, but expanded production and sales could reduce their prices. A thin, two-inch square light, smaller than a drink coaster, costs about $500; a four-inch light a little more than $1,000, said Mr. Herring, adding that demand is strong and the company is looking to expand and hire more workers.

“We feel like we have a product that can help and prevent the spread of the virus from person to person,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to implement distribution. We’re trying to do the best we can in a time of crisis.”

Juliet Ferrelli, director of infection prevention at Allegheny Health Network’s eight hospitals, said the healthcare system is aware of the far-UVC technology and recognizes its potential to complement existing use of ultraviolet decontamination systems in air handling units at all of its hospitals. UPMC also uses UV light treatments in its hospital bulk air handling systems.

“We’ve explored the use of far-UVC light in ERs (emergency rooms) and operating rooms and are looking into the technology, especially for the new hospital we are building in Wexford,” Ms. Ferrelli said.

She said that while UV light is a well proven disinfection method, retrofitting all the rooms in an existing hospital would be quite expensive. AHN also uses mobile UV light robots, at its Allegheny General, Forbes and West Penn hospitals, but those robots can only be used in unoccupied rooms.

“We are looking at use of the (far-UVC lighting) in other health care settings and evaluating if it makes sense in every hospital, in every room. And, given that we already use UV in our air handling, do we need both?

“But as passive equipment for infection prevention, I definitely see its use as growing in the healthcare field.”

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983. Twitter: @donhopey.


Bart P. Billings,Ph.D.
COL SCNG-SC, Military Medical Directorate (Ret.)
Licensed Clinical Psychologist CA PSY 7656
Licensed Marriage, Family Therapist CA LMFT 4888

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