Roughly 55 million students and seven million staff attend the 130,000 public and private schools each day in the United States. At any given time, each of those people is susceptible to various types of illness, many of which are communicated through the air.
Ironically, the transmission of infectious airborne diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza and the common cold can be accelerated or controlled by a school or college’s HVAC equipment.
In a recent article published in American School and University magazine, UV Resources President Dan Jones suggests that school facility and maintenance directors adopt active infection control protocols to reduce disease transmissions.
According to Jones, one such control, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), can be applied to continuously reduce, or in some cases prevent, infectious pathogens from growing on or circulating in school air and surfaces.
UV-C for Infection Control
UVGI or ultraviolet light in the 254-nm germicidal C-band wavelength (UV-C) kills all known microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens – even those immune to antibiotics, known as superbugs.
The latest talk in the medical community has been a lot about the appearance of bacterial “superbugs.” Superbugs are strains of certain bacteria that are resistant to various antibiotics, making them extraordinarily dangerous and difficult to eradicate. The creation of bacterial superbugs is brought about by the overprescription and misuse of antibiotics. When antibiotics are needlessly prescribed or taken to excess it can eliminate both good and bad bacteria, leaving the strong drug-resistant bacteria free to multiply at will.
Once the superbug bacterium multiplies within your body, it is most commonly spread through direct contact and poorly cleaned surfaces. Another problem that has risen is the overuse of antibacterial products, such as antibacterial soaps, in healthcare facilities. Excessive use of these antibacterial soaps has also been contributed to antibiotic resistance. As a result, many health facilities have been looking for new ways to combat and eliminate these dangerous bacteria.
A surprising solution for two major health facilities was the use of sanitizing robots that would enter into unoccupied rooms and emit germicidal ultraviolet rays for 15 minutes in order to kill any germs. Why? UV light has been proven to be effective in eradicating viruses, bacteria, and spores without human contact. In fact, it’s been incredibly effective in eliminating two particularly virulent diseases Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) in less than five minutes.
With the success that UV light has had in eliminating diseases, it’s only a matter of time before its utilization becomes a new standard in a hospital and health care sanitation. Even so, it’s still important to understand that the abuse of antibiotics and the overuse of antibacterial products may be doing more harm than good.
Upper-air (upper-room) UV-C units have been in use since the 1930s and can be installed in classrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, locker rooms, childcare centers—anywhere infectious agents may exist.
These systems work by creating an irradiation zone within the upper region of most any space. As convection or mechanical air currents lift airborne infectious agents into the upper air (above 7-8 feet), they are exposed to the UV irradiation where they are killed.
Upper-air UV-C units kill pathogens circulated into its irradiation zone by drafts, pressure differentials or the movement of people, such as entering, exiting or cleaning a room. UV lamps are also effective against droplet nuclei from coughing or sneezing.
Save money with UV-C
With the funding shortages, most schools face today, spending extra money just to maintain indoor comfort and/or to manually clean the coils throughout the year isn’t ideal. Ultraviolet lamps provide a permanent solution. Their germicidal power kills up to 90 percent of microorganisms living on HVAC/R components. Once installed, they work 24/7/365 to eliminate the need for costly chemical cleanings and the labor that they entail.
The initial cost of a UV-C system is about the same as a single mechanical coil-cleaning procedure, and less when system shutdowns, off-hours work with the associated overtime, and/or contractor labor costs, are considered. Indeed, without UV-C, cleanings are recommended at least once per year to prevent mold growth and capacity loss and to keep contaminants from compacting deep within the coil. With staffs and budgets shrinking, however, time and money for in-house or contracted coil cleaning are becoming scarce. As a result, it might be more rational to make a one-time investment in a UV-C system that will keep cooling coils at as-built conditions.
The lamps do need to be replaced once per year, and costs have been decreasing on that front as well.
Maximize energy savings and indoor comfort
Once you make the initial investment in ultraviolet lamps, you’ll keep earning dividends for years to come in the form of energy savings. The UV-C will remove coil-fouling microbes and prevent new ones from forming. Over that past few years, the University of Arkansas installed UV lamps across campus and was able to boost airflow levels by 127 percent on one particular air-handling unit.
UV-C will also help eliminate potential disease-carrying microorganisms, which is always a major benefit in a school during flu season. For infection control specifically, upper air, wall-hung ultraviolet lamps can eliminate germs in the upper air and help mitigate nosocomial infections, colds, and flu, etc.
Ultraviolet lamps are a great “back-to-school supply” for facility managers, whether they are installed inside an HVAC system or in the upper air. More affordable than traditional coil cleanings, and able to save energy and improve the entire indoor environment, UV-C should not be ignored as a tool to help campuses everywhere breathe easier.
UV-C installations are a simple, effective and relatively inexpensive means for schools to improve indoor environmental quality. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza and the common cold are transmitted via airborne and surface pathogens.
Because ultraviolet germicidal irradiation kills all known microorganisms, the technology can be applied to continuously reduce, or in some cases prevent, infectious pathogens from growing on or circulating in school air and surfaces.