Ultraviolet (UV) light has been used for a long time to eliminate germs, pathogens, bacteria, fungi and molds in various sectors of the pharmaceutical and beverage industries and in hospital environments. As it does not use chemical agents, it is effective, has a relatively low cost for maintenance and is ecologically friendly, China has opted for this resource more frequently in the fight against the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Now, the government is looking for other technologies and methods to apply it widely.
Thus, agencies of various services in the country have been using UV light in public buses and elevators. Recently, Shanghai’s public transport company Yanggao transformed a regular cleaning room into a disinfection chamber with this tool. This reduced the process of cleaning vehicles from 40 minutes to just five minutes.
“After the epidemic happened, we were actively looking for a more efficient disinfection method,” said Qin Jin, deputy general manager at the state-owned company. He explained that normally the process requires the full attention of two employees, who spray disinfectants on the surfaces of vehicles before cleaning them. “The problem with that is that they can’t get to certain corners,” he said.
The group recently entered into a partnership with a technology provider to convert two cleanrooms into this system. The premises are equipped with 210 UV tubes and have the capacity to disinfect up to 250 buses per day in each chamber. With a demand of around 1,000 vehicles daily on the Yanggao network, this implementation reduces the amount of overtime for staff and optimizes issues related to logistics and labor.
WHO and experts say care must be taken with UV
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of the skin. According to the body, UV radiation can cause skin irritation – to avoid this, Qin says that the chambers are sealed after the vehicles enter and activated by the team on the outside. Health experts say that UV light is not normally used to disinfect public areas, but it can be effective if applied carefully and correctly.
Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Clinical Microbiology and Infection Society, agrees that this process can be effective, but it also highlights the potential risk of skin cancer. “UV disinfection is widely used in hospitals around the world, after patients leave the room. This feature is used in pathogens resistant to antimicrobials, tuberculosis and other infectious agents.” He adds that, although it is generally not applied to public transport, “there are no reasons why it doesn’t work”.
UV rays in “smart elevators”
Yanggao is not the only organization that invests on this front. The Central Bank of China said in February that it had been disinfecting and isolating cash notes with the help of UV lights to combat the new coronavirus. A market supervision department in Guangdong province, in the south of the country, even proposes an “intelligent UV lift disinfection system” to clean the hard-to-reach corners and eliminate traces of cleaning fluids.
The project calls for UV tubes in elevators to be activated when sensors confirm the absence of users. Then, the UV rays would scan and turn off automatically. The idea is to implement this in public spaces, such as hospital elevators – it remains to be seen whether safety protocols will be really effective in ensuring that no one is in these environments during application.