Is Germicidal Lighting Safe?

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Lighting Safe

2020 has brought hygiene into full focus for people around the world. Thanks to the deadly COVID19 pandemic, the world’s population has shifted focus to methods that can keep bacteria and viruses at bay. One of those methods is the use of germicidal lighting. 

Antibacterial lighting (also known as germicidal lighting) can reduce and eliminate the presence of viruses, fungi, mold, yeast, and bacteria. For many people around the world, this has proven to be a modern solution to creating a healthy and well-illuminated space. The convenience and functionality have made germicidal lighting popular globally. But is germicidal lighting safe?

What is germicidal Lighting?

Germicidal lighting is essentially a form of UV light tailored to serve as a virus and bacteria eliminator while also providing aesthetically pleasing illumination. The UV light used in germicidal lamination can be either UV-A UV-B or UV-C based on the wavelength they facilitate. UV-A has the longest wavelength while UV C has the shortest. UV-C is also considered the safest grade of UV light.

Germicidal lighting fixtures are designed to release low levels of UV radiation, typically ranging from 100-280 nanometers (or UV-C).  The light controls bacteria and viruses by killing them or making it impossible for them to replicate. For many, this is a welcome alternative to chemical sanitizing methods.

Germicidal lighting is typically available in three categories of strength; light-emitting diodes (LED), low-pressure lamps and high-pressure lamps. LED germicidal lighting is relatively new in the industry. This newer type of UV lighting is more efficient and lasts longer than its counterparts. Additionally, it has allowed for the application of UV waves in very small spaces which makes it convenient to use when accurate and deliberate application to a specific surface is needed. As a result, this UV light has become popular in the medical field as a tool for sterilizing surgical equipment.

Low-pressure lamps used for germicidal purposes resemble the typical fluorescent light and have a wavelength capacity of 253.7 nanometres. High-pressure lamps resemble HID lamps and the light they produce is whitish-bluish. High-pressure lamps are more suited to industrial environments such as treatment plants that process high volumes of water due to the intense radiation emissions.

How it Works

On average, the UV light emitted by germicidal lighting fixtures eliminates bacteria within ten minutes when aimed at a distance of 6 inches from the target. When the light hits bacteria and viruses, it breaks down their DNA by stopping pairing. This interruption results in the development of pyrimidine dimers. The Pyrimidine dimers then trigger cell death.

Scientific researchers at Columbia University have established the efficacy of UV lighting in preventing the survival and proliferation of viruses and bacteria. They discovered that, when applied from a specific distance, UV lights can be deadly to viruses and bacteria without harming the skin. The team, whose research is still in its early stages, has designed an applicator that produces a narrow wave of UV light that targets viruses and bacteria. Among the viruses that this germicidal lighting targets are e-coli, corona viruses and salmonella. 

Where Germicidal Lighting is Used

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Lighting is Used

These beams of germicidal lighting are usually applied to surfaces rather than the human skin since UV light is linked to health problems. It is used around the world in a state of the art surgical and medical facilities to inhibit the growth and survival of bacteria and viruses on surfaces and instruments. It is also used the food and beverage industries as a means of protecting food from contamination, thereby aiding in the prevention of foodborne diseases. 

In the home setting, germicidal lighting may be installed in the HVAC system.  This allows the UV light to purify the air that circulates throughout the inside of the building via the cooling or heating system. In this application, beams of light work round the clock eliminating viruses and bacteria from the air that circulates within the HVAC system. This approach can be applied to commercial buildings as well.

Other situations in which this type of lighting is used include air and water purification, the sterilization of workspaces and the sanitization of food preparation areas. Some commercial buildings, for example, are kept sterile through the use of germicidal lighting. 

It should be noted though that germicidal lighting is a constant work in progress. Since the experiments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, considerable progress has been made in the efforts to create a version of this modern disinfecting agent that is both safe and effective. Scientists around the globe are consistently seeking ways to convert UV light into an accessible sanitizing tool.

The hardware surrounding this type of light-based disinfectant has also evolved over the decades as designers and manufacturers chase the ideal hardware to deliver the light safely. The traditional designs for germicidal lighting bulbs include the compact plug-in design and the linear tube.

The Downside

Downside

Like many other useful modern inventions, germicidal lighting can have adverse side effects if it is misused. As an example, the improper use of UV lighting can cause skin damage and conditions such as skin cancer. But this occurs when high-intensity emissions are used and when the exposure is prolonged. 

This type of lighting can also affect the eyes negatively. This is why it is important for people to wear the appropriate protective gear such as protective glasses when they are exposed to UV lights.  Areas, where germicidal lighting is sued, should also be properly labeled to indicate this. Another helpful precaution is ensuring that all human beings have vacated the space before applying the light. Commercial buildings that are vacant at night can employ this strategy. Installing the light inside HVAC systems also eliminates the possibility of contact with human beings or animals.

For those who want to be able to monitor their germicidal lights to detect malfunctioning, remotely-accessed cameras are ideal. With these cameras, you can observe the light without risking danger by attempting to look with your naked eye, something that could result in severe damage to your vision as well as your skin. Companies that manufacture and sell germicidal lighting fixtures often also offer monitoring cameras as well as installation services. Whether you are able to monitor your germicidal lighting fixture or not, you should have the bulb replaced annually, by a professional.

If the right precautions are taken, germicidal lighting can be used to stop bacteria and viruses in their tracks without causing adverse effects.  Germicidal light fixtures should never be used as part of DIY projects. Their installation, maintenance, and removal are best left to the professionals. Additionally, it is best that these lights be used in spaces that have not people or animals present.

Germicidal lighting has come a long way since its invention in the 1930s. It has proven to be an effective way of sanitizing equipment, surfaces, and ensuring a high level of indoor air quality. In its current state, this multipurpose lighting option is safest when users follow established guidelines and precautions. Undoubtedly though, germicidal lighting is becoming more popular around the world and is poised to evolve into a full and safe option to illuminate spaces while eliminating the infection. 

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