UV Technology Fights Infection

Student health benefits from the use of ultra-violet rays.

UV fixtures at Schenectady County Community College, Schenectady, NY, fight a war against infectious diseases, providing a healthier campus.

As the winter months approach, the threat of cold and flu lingers in the back of everyone’s mind. This is especially true at colleges and universities, where thousands of students, faculty, and staff congregate, bringing germs with them.

At Schenectady County Community College, Schenectady, NY, director of facilities, Alan Yauney, has been fighting the war against infectious diseases for the past seven years. He previously spent 13 years in a similar position at the Univ. of Alaska. It’s a war the veteran facility manager is well armed to fight, bringing a host of infection-fighting technologies to the battle, and not just hand sanitizer (although there is certainly plenty of that). “We have sprays over our bathroom door handles that periodically release germicide to eliminate the viruses and bacteria that people leave behind,” explained Yauney.

Part of his infection-fighting arsenal is an electrostatic fogging machine that decontaminates an entire room, even under the tables, during an outbreak. “All of our disinfecting agents are environmentally friendly,” underscored Yauney, as he explained a pressure washer he uses to clean bathrooms once a week. In fact, his stockpile of disinfectant has even become a source for other local facility managers when they run out of sanitizing agents at their facilities.

Recently, Yauney deployed another weapon in infection control–Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) germicidal irradiation–which has fostered an affordable level of upper-air purification previously unattainable.

Why UV-C?

UV-C systems have been used to control airborne infectious diseases in schools and hospitals since the 1940s. Today, UV-C light is used in healthcare facilities to decontaminate surgical and patient areas and even to destroy the Ebola virus in as little as five minutes. Yauney’s earliest memory of UV-C lighting was as a child visiting the pediatrician. “I remember the lights being mounted over my doctor’s door to kill germs,” he said.

Decades later, during the 1980s, Yauney reacquainted himself with UV-C technology when he managed the construction of a water filtration plant in New York. “There were numerous options to disinfect the water,” he recalled. “Chlorine was one, but it’s a toxic chemical. Ozone was another, but it has a short life. We ended up choosing UV-C because it can deliver a continuously high kill rate for microorganisms.”

He knew that UV-C would be an effective tool for infection control at the Schenectady college.

David Crowley, territory sales manager for Camfil USA Inc., Syracuse, NY, a manufacturer’s representative, introduced Yauney to the high-output GLO UV-C germicidal fixture from UV Resources, Santa Clarita, CA. The fixture reportedly delivers the industry’s greatest amount of upper-room UV-C dosage–as much as 350% more irradiance than conventional upper-air UV systems. The UV germicidal wavelength provides cleaner, healthier air by preventing microbial buildup in HVACR cooling coils, drain pans, air filters, and duct surfaces. UV-C energy also kills pathogens in airstreams. UV-C’s proper application results in improved coil heat transfer, reduced energy use, less odor, and reduced cleaning downtime and damage. These effects can also lower the incidence of airborne allergies, colds, and flu.

This increase in irradiance levels translates to greater UV-C coverage, enabling infection-control specialists to treat more area with fewer fixtures, saving cost and energy.

The wall-mounted fixture creates an irradiation zone within the upper region of most any space. Virtually all infectious agents carried upward by convection currents are killed by the ultraviolet irradiation.

“UV-C’s high infection kill rate makes it a no-brainer on a college campus like Schenectady, which is around 400,000 square feet and enrolls roughly 6,500 students,” said Yauney.

One installation challenge was how to position the fixtures so students could not look directly into the harmful light.

Different systems

“In this case, the college wanted the ability to provide on-the-spot infection control with specific stand-alone installations of the UV-C upper-air fixtures,” explained Crowley. The GLO’s affordability was another major factor in the decision.

Yauney moved forward to purchase and install 20 GLO units across campus. Units were positioned in the areas where infections are typically most entrenched, such as the cafeteria and daycare center.

“We installed between five and eight units in the daycare center alone because young children tend to be ill more frequently than adults and their interaction with one another makes transmission rates higher” said Yauney. Units were also installed near the security desk, the cafeteria and café, as well as the student forum and lounge.

One installation challenge was how to position the fixtures so students could not look directly into the harmful light. To minimize direct exposure to UV-C light, the GLO fixture has baffles that direct and angle the ultraviolet light upward and out of the line of sight.

Some areas at the college are multilevel, however, so units were strategically placed to avoid exposure to the students. Other areas, like the elevators, were avoided for fear that students would purposely try to access the lamps without realizing the danger of direct UV-C exposure.

A member of the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, Yauney argued that although most facility managers are probably not as germ conscious as he is, it’s a good trait to have. “Anywhere you put thousands of people in close proximity, be it a hospital, airport, large office building, or college, it’s advisable to try to eliminate disease transmission as much as possible. Otherwise, the money you save will be lost to absenteeism and poor indoor air quality,” he concluded.

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