Understanding The Danger of UV Light
When it comes to bacteria and pathogens, your choice of lighting can help prevent the spread of illnesses and diseases but can also do more harm than good. As the nation continues to strive to stay safe and healthy, the use of germicidal lighting has become an integral feature for many.
Below, the experts here at Action Services Group help to explain how UV-C light can reduce the spread of illnesses, the major safety concerns you need to consider, the types of applications available to you, as well as a safer option besides UV-C lighting.
Ultraviolet (UV) light occurs naturally. In fact, UV light accounts for roughly 10% of the light created by the sun.
Light is measured in wavelengths. Visible light occurs when these wavelengths measure between 400 nanometers (nm) and 700nm. Infrared light then accounts for wavelengths beyond 700nm. As electromagnetic radiation, UV light calls between 100nm and 400nm and is not visible to the eye. UV light is classified into one of three categories based on wavelengths: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C.
UV-A light, also referred to as Near UV Light, occurs between 315nm and 400nm. UV-A wavelengths are those permitted to permeate through the Earth’s atmosphere. Because these wavelengths are so close to those of visible light, it is generally believed that UV-A light is safe for humans to be around.
UV-A light is used to fight certain types of viruses and bacteria. However, it should be understood that UV-A light is not as strong or capable of disinfection as other types of UV lighting. In fact, UV-A is most used to fight minor, secondary infections only. (More common usages include curing, printing, lithography, and sensor applications.)
In short, UV-A light can help reduce bacterial infection rates but will not fully disinfect or sanitize an area. UV-A light is not considered safe for human eyes or skin and may cause irritations and can potentially lead to cancer.
UVA rays have been linked to cancer as they are able to penetrate the skin’s dermis layer quickly, which is why they are known to help tan the skin. Unlike UVB and UVC wavelengths, UVA rays are also able to penetrate through glass and clouds. This means your windshield and windows provide little protection from exposure. (Hence the reason experts in the medical field always urge you to apply sunscreen, even if you are not spending a day at the beach!)
UV-B wavelengths measure between 280nm to 315nm. UV-B light is mostly prevented from entering our atmosphere because the ozone layer absorbs wavelengths less than 290nm.
That being said, UV-B light is a stronger disinfectant than UV-A light but is still not able to kill all bacteria or viruses. While it is primarily used for curing and tanning beds – it is also used in broad-spectrum lighting. UV-B light is not considered safe for human eyes or skin and may cause minor irritations and can potentially lead to cancer.
While fewer of these rays penetrate the earth’s ozone layer, those that do are more intense than UVA light. Because of this, UVB light is often cited as the source that causes sunburn. In fact, UVB rays can burn the top layer of your skin, known as the epidermis layer, in as little as 15 minutes.
UVB wavelengths can vary based on the time of day, as well as the season. This is because they typically only break through the ozone layer while the earth is closest to the sun. Because they can damage the skin, UVB wavelengths have been known to age skin and lead to skin cancer.
UV-C light is the most effective light for disinfecting. Also referred to as UV Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI), UV-C light measures between 200nm and 280nm. As with UV-B, naturally occurring UV-C is prevented from entering the atmosphere due to the Earth’s ozone layer. While the Earth’s ozone layer fully blocks these from naturally entering our atmosphere, there are Artificial UVC Applications should be used with caution and with proper measures taken to prevent prolonged exposure.
UV-C germicidal light is NOT safe for eyes or skin, and can lead to skin cancer.
UV-C light works by damaging the RNA and DNA of microorganisms, preventing them from being able to reproduce. In doing so, they eliminate bacteria, viruses, and pathogens and disinfect air, water, and surfaces.
To learn more about UV Wavelengths, check out our blog, What is Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI). We walk you through the differences in UV wavelengths, utilizing infographics, and explain What UVGI can Disinfect.
The History of UV Light Disinfection
In 1877, Arthur Downes and Thomas P. Blunt published The Influence of Light upon the Development of Bacteria, referencing their influential investigation of UV-C light as an anti-bacterial source. Since then, scientists have continued to expand on their findings and further validify this concept.
Because the earth’s ozone prevented germicidal UV light from entering the atmosphere, scientists worked for years to come up with a man-made replica of this anti-bacterial lighting. In 1903, the first UV quartz lamp was used by Niels Ryberg Finsen to treat skin tuberculosis. In 1910, a UV-C disinfection system was used to treat public water in Marseille, France. (Just 6 years later, the US followed suit at a water treatment plant in Kentucky.) By 1930, UV germicidal lamps became available commercially.
Since then, scientists have continued to evaluate and pursue applications of UV-C light in the treatment of illnesses, diseases, and preventive medicines. In fact, based on the potency of UV-C germicidal light, the United States Army, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommend the use of UVGI as part of bio-defense systems, personal protective equipment (PPE) disinfection, and much more.
A perfect solution to replace your germicidal lighting is an Air Purification System. As the national distributor and installer for the Erlab Halo Smart P air purification system, we understand you have questions. You can schedule an educational call with us to review your questions and concerns by clicking the button below.
Why Air Purification Is the Better Option
UVA wavelengths are the least effective when it comes to disinfection. UVB, which is slightly more intense, can help disinfect some minor bacteria. Of all the UV wavelengths, however, UVC is considered the strongest and most effective at disinfection, though the level of danger might out way the benefits.
Instead of adding a potentially dangerous application to your facility, an air purification system is the safe viable option. These systems offer building occupants a sense of safety as they purify the air from allergens, bacteria, and viruses (including the Covid-19 virus).
Healthy buildings need to have a robust HVAC or air filtration system that is capable of filtering common pollutants like dirt, pollen, and dust out of the air, along with pathogens like COVID-19. Our air purification system not only gets rid of viruses, but it also gets rid of bacteria, dust particles, and allergens from the air as well. This allows for completely healthy air in buildings, which is a great way to get back to life.
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Germicidal UV-C Light System Types
As technology continues to evolve, germicidal UV-C light systems have been able to adapt to different situations.
Mobile UV-C Disinfection Devices
For some applications, a portable model would be more appropriate. Mobile UV-C devices allow you to easily transport your UVGI fixture from room to room or focus on a very specific, limited areas. Commonly used in medical facilities, mobile UV-C devices can be brought into various rooms to ensure any potential illnesses or viruses have been thoroughly destroyed before a new patient enters the same area. Because of the number of rooms and the large scale of many medical facilities, these portable UVGI devices help to reduce investment costs because they are easily transported between spaces and just as effective. (Instead of installing a UV-C fixture in every single room, these portable models mean you purchase fewer devices but reap the same benefits and use them only as needed.)
Warning: Mobile UV-C units pose the same dangers as all other versions. You could potentially have unsuspecting persons entering a room when one is in operation. We highly suggest some sort of warning system be installed to show a room is currently being disinfected.
UV-C Ceiling & Wall Fixtures
UV-C devices can also be permanently installed. They also help provide permanent disinfectant capabilities that can be tied into your lighting control system to ensure scheduled and/or automatic sanitation occurs regularly. (They can also be attached to simple motion sensors to ensure they remain off when an occupant is in the room to prevent eye and skin exposure.)
More often than not, permanent UV-C fixtures are installed via the ceiling or the wall.
- Ceiling Fixtures: Hung from the ceiling, these fixtures allow for permanently stationed UVGI lamps to be appropriately spaced to cover large areas. As with conventional industrial hanging lights, these fixtures are attached to your ceiling by chain or aircraft cables to ensure they are safely secured.
- Wall Fixtures: Wall fixtures can also be spaced to disinfect large areas. They are also easily adapted to contours to ensure tight corners or nooks are fully exposed to the UV-C light for disinfection.
Warning: If installing UV-C fixtures, we highly suggest testing them thoroughly as well as having a system that guarantees the units are NOT turned on while the room is occupied. You will not be able to see if a unit is on, UV-C light is not visible to the eye. So, you could be occupying a room while these units are still on.
Additional Uses for Germicidal UV-C Lighting
As stated previously, germicidal UV-C lighting can be used for more than just disinfecting surfaces. In fact, HVAC and water treatment facilities continue to use UVGI fixtures to help clean and disinfect the air you breathe as well as water.
These usages of UV-C disinfection are a much safer option for utilizing UV-C lighting. These applications are contained units and do not pose a health risk.
When installed within an HVAC system, a UV-C fixture helps to kill airborne toxins that can spread illnesses and viruses even when the infected person is not in the same room. HVAC applications kill germs before they have the chance to filter into the next room and are part of a well-designed preventative system or upgrade. In addition to this, when installed within ductwork, there is no risk of eye or skin exposure to the UV-C light. Not only are you cleaning the air, you have a built-in defense that keeps the room’s occupants safe from exposure.
Water treatment is another ideal application. UV-C fixtures have been designed that allow these lamps to be inserted directly into water. When turned on, these fixtures kill off waterborne pathogens that can escape chemical treatments. Not only is this safer for those who may come into contact with these pathogens, but it protects the surrounding environment from harsh chemicals that may damage the ecosystem around water treatment plants. UV-C reactors, which are the devices installed within water tanks are easy to maintain and often require little more than a bulb change. It leaves no residue and, when installed within the water conduit, acts as part of your system and does not require additional time to process. Used to treat rainwater, drinking water, and even wastewater – incorporating germicidal UV-C light into your system can seriously reduce the spread of illnesses and viruses.
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Improved Safety Features for Germicidal UV-C Lighting
Above, we mentioned that there are some safety concerns when using germicidal UV-C light. All forms of UV light contain carcinogenic properties – which means they can lead to cancer. For the most part, however, eye and skin exposure will likely lead to intense and painful irritations that may take days to recover from.
It is unlikely that momentary exposure will lead to the development of cancer. However, even irritations can be painful and are best avoided. To prevent this, it is highly recommended that UVGI fixtures are only operated when a room is unoccupied or when proper safety precautions are met.
In order to safely operate UV-C lighting, some features may be desired. This includes:
- Exterior On/Off Switches: Placing the off/on switch for your UV-C fixture outside the room can ensure the room is unoccupied and the door shields the operator from exposure.
- Pre-Programming: Pre-programming your UV-C fixture to automatically turn on and off while your business is closed can ensure it is only run while the building is completely unoccupied. For example, if you operate a chain store that is open between 8AM and 8PM, you can pre-program your UV-C fixture to cycle through at midnight to ensure no employees or customers are in the store when the light is on.
- Sensors: UV-C fixtures can also be attached to occupancy sensors. These sensors can be used to automatically turn a UVGI lamp off when motion is detected in a room.
- Smart Phone Applications: Certain fixtures come with controls that can be integrated onto your smartphone or tablet. This gives you control from anywhere in the world without requiring the UV-C fixture to manually be powered on and off.
While all these applications have improved safety features, they still can be dangerous and can cause harm to you over time. Our air purification system is a much safer option for you building and everyone inside it.
Air Purification with Action Services Group
At Action Services Group, we strive to ensure every facility we work with is ready with the best defenses. This includes being ready to reduce airborne viruses. As a national distributor of the Erlab Halo Smart P premier air filtration station, we can help keep your facility’s occupants in the healthiest environment possible.
If you are looking to increase the safety of your facility and are interested in learning more about the importance of proper air filtration, contact Action Services Group today. Call 610-558-9773 or email [email protected], you can also schedule a call by clicking the button below.