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COVID-19 Drives Huge UV Disinfection Demand in the HVAC and IAQ Industries

COVID-19 Drives Huge UV Disinfection Demand in the HVAC and IAQ Industries

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on humanity, but it has also illustrated the adage “chaos breeds innovation,” which is driving demand for UV disinfection.

Hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients amidst a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage developed their own innovations to disinfect and reuse employee N95 masks and other medical protection. “Doctors and healthcare managers are ordering UV (ultraviolet) lamp systems to convert hospital refrigerators, cabinets and other containers into make-shift disinfection chambers for the renewed interest in reusing PPE due to shortages,” said Aaron Engel, vice-president business/development, Fresh-Aire UV, a Jupiter, Fla.-based manufacturer of indoor air quality (IAQ) equipment, such as UV systems for HVAC units, ductwork and environmental surface disinfection systems (ESDS). “Since the chambers are a variety of volumetric sizes, we take their dimensions and provide the most effective UV output using our proprietary BlueCalc modeling software.”

Puzzled how doctors were making the connection of UV-C’s virus inactivation capabilities with PPE disinfection, Fresh-Aire UV executives soon discovered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued its guideline document “Crisis Standards of Care Decontamination Recommendations” on April 9. One recommended alternative cited a 2018 American Journal of Infection Control article “Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation of Influenza-Contaminated N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFR)” to disinfect PPE for reuse. The 2018 article’s researchers custom-built a deactivation chamber using Fresh-Aire UV’s high output UV-C lamp system. The conclusion stated that one to five-minute (depending on chamber size) UV-C exposures were effective in disinfecting N95 respirators for reuse during pandemic shortages. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30140-8/fulltext

Consequently, UV equipment sales have been strong throughout the pandemic as Fresh-Aire UV, distributors and contractors battle to keep pace with the increasing demand for both commercial and residential systems.

Besides lamp systems, the most popular requests during the crisis have been UV-C surface disinfection for offices, exam spaces and patient rooms; commercial UV systems for disinfecting the airflow and interior surfaces of air handlers and ductwork; and single lamps and combination UV/activated carbon media systems for residential HVAC equipment.

Consequently, many HVAC contractors are on a record pace to sell and install residential UV systems. Distributors have also seen an unprecedented interest in UV. “Our UV sales are up 1,000-percent due to COVID-19 and inquiries are continually increasing,” said Ronald Zajack, president, Coastal Cooling Inc., a Fort Myers, Fla.-based HVAC contractor. Coastal has promoted UV with TV commercials, an email blast explaining UV’s benefits and the company’s policy on protecting customers and employees during service calls, and an instructional video post on its website.

Because of its sudden emergence, there’s no published data of UV-C’s effectiveness or dosage for inactivating COVID-19. However, the 2004 study “Inactivation of the Coronavirus that Induces Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS-COV” published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has proven UV-C’s success with other coronaviruses, such as SARS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15350737. Consequently, experts suspect COVID-19 dosages are probably similar to SARS for inactivation.

Furthermore, Fresh-Aire UV’s third-party testing also included viruses. One study simulated airstream microbe inactivation in an ASTM/AHAM style environmental test chamber simulating a typical building’s indoor environment and HVAC air handler arrangement. Performed in an ASHRAE Standard 52.2 test duct system, the test’s UV-C light single-pass results demonstrated a 99.03-percent inactivation of the virus (MS2 coliphage).

The chaos of COVID-19 has bred innovation at hospitals, but also at Fresh-Aire UV. The company is now developing UV-C lamp chambers to disinfect medical equipment that will help relieve the pressure on N95 mask manufacturers to maintain the PPE supply chain throughout the ensuing months of the COVID-19 crisis.