The new technology can add another layer of protection against the next pandemic just by turning on the light. Researchers are exploring a new way to use ultraviolet light to make indoor air safer.
“It’s been known for 80 years or more that ultraviolet light can kill bacteria and inactivate airborne viruses so they can no longer infect,” Don K. Milton, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, CBS News.
Conventional UV-C lighting is widely used in places such as hospitals, homeless shelters and prisons. But that conventional UV light can damage the skin and eyes, so it doesn’t have to be exposed directly to people.
The shorter wavelength – called Far UV -C – cannot penetrate the top layers of the skin or the torn layer of the cornea.
Milton envisioned portable devices, such as one made for the Pentagon or those mounted on ceilings and pointed downwards, to limit the spread of pathogens in places where people congregate. It is already used in some restaurants, airports and buses.
“We can put it in places where people congregate, which reduces the ability of the virus to be transmitted in these congregate settings,” he said.
David Michaels, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, told CBS News that he hopes the technology will be part of a layer of protection against airborne pathogens that includes ventilation, filtration, masks. and vaccination.
“You can’t say, ‘wear a mask, get vaccinated.’ We have to make sure the air is clean, the air is safe. And Far UV-C is a very effective tool, “Michaels said. “You need layered protection. And we know you can have super-spreader incidents in indoor areas where everyone is vaccinated and they are tested. That’s why we need to do better.”
Michaels, the former assistant labor secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Obama administration, said he expects professional organizations to issue safety recommendations around Far UV-C technology before it will get government approval.
“OSHA won’t give regulatory approval, but OSHA will hopefully eventually say it’s something you can get involved with. But OSHA doesn’t give permission for any technology. And here are some options,” he said. told CBS News.
“I hope OSHA moves quickly to meet the requirements, not just for germicidal UV, but across the board, because right now OSHA has no standard for infectious airborne diseases.”
CBS News has reached out to OSHA, and the agency is focusing on current guidelines on protecting employees in the workplace.
“OSHA is currently working on a contagious disease pattern that, if adopted, would address airborne pathogens in both health care and other high-risk settings,” a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Health said. Labor told CBS News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CBS News that new research on Far UV-C is promising, but more research is needed. The Food and Drug Administration says long -term safety data is lacking.
“I’m a scientist and there’s always another question I want to answer, but I think the risks are small and the advantages of this technology are huge,” Milton said when he thinks the technology is ready. “And so we have to start using it.”