A Regina company has developed a chemical-free process that it claims will eradicate bacteria and viruses — including the novel coronavirus — in large and complex indoor spaces.
Ground Effects Environmental Services Inc. created the SANOZONE bio-decontamination unit, a mobile automated system that releases ozone gas, which disrupts viruses, in an unoccupied area.
“It can come on in the middle of the night, disinfect your office, your library, your university, wherever it is,” said Sean Frisky, Ground Effects president and CEO.
“When you arrive in the morning, every single spot the gas touched — which is everywhere — will be completely disinfected.”
Once completed, the unit converts ozone molecules back into oxygen, a process that does not leave behind any residue.
Watch: How Ground Effects says its system disrupts viruses.
“The only consumable in the process is electricity. So you plug it in, it’s completely automated, and it has all the safety protocol and features in place,” he said, adding an online user manual is currently being drafted.
SANOZONE uses smart technology, meaning the unit can be programmed through a mobile app. Users are sent an alert when cleaning is complete, which takes an hour or more depending on the space, and the building is safe to re-enter.
How ozone attacks viruses, bacteria
Dr. Joseph Blondeau is the head of clinical microbiology at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital, and the provincial lead of clinical microbiology for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
He told Global News there is international interest in whether ozone can play a larger role in the coronavirus pandemic, however, medical investigations are still ongoing.
“I like to see evidence, and if there’s evidence out there that says something does something, I tend to accept that if it’s been peer-reviewed,” he said.
While Blondeau could not speak to the SANOZONE product, he explained ozone has been used medically in the treatment of wounds and studied as a decontaminant throughout the last century.
“There is some evidence that actually shows that you can measure a reduction in colony-forming units of bacteria, in the air, in rooms that have had an ozonation treatment,” he said.
“Some of that data suggests that ozone was shown, at least under those conditions, to reduce airborne bacteria by 71 to 93 per cent, but it was dependent on what the parts per million — or parts per billion — of what the actual gas was.”
He explained ozone works through a process called oxidation, which changes the properties of whatever is being oxidized – in this case, bacteria and viruses.
“Oxidation, in its simplest definition, means a loss of electrons,” he said.
“If you change even of the structure of an organism, such that some of its critical functions have been disrupted or prevented from being performed, then the virus can no longer replicate.”
Blondeau said COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, meaning it has an outer layer containing proteins necessary to its pathogenic process. He said disrupting that layer would change the virus’s ability to cause disease.
“It makes COVID-19, like other envelope viruses, easier to target when it comes to trying to decontaminate or kill it,” Blondeau said.
Blondeau said it would be difficult to know how effective ozone gas is at decontaminating a given space without testing the area before and after.
Testing with SARS-COVID-2
For 22 years, Ground Effects has used electrical technologies for water treatment in the oil and gas, mining and industrial sectors.
The company, in conjunction with Geosyntec Consulting, developed SANOZONE within 35 days, a time frame they said included third-party testing against SARS-COVID-2.
“We’re using a virus surrogate that is a non-infectious, non-pathogenic organism that contains the same genetic markers that COVID-19 contains,” said Trevor Carlson, principal consultant at Geosyntec, who reached out to Frisky with the idea to explore an ozone process.
Some testing took place in Regina and Saskatoon, while samples were analyzed at a Geosyntec lab in Guelph, Ont.
Carlson said the surrogate virus was applied to surfaces in controlled settings to determine the effectiveness of different ozone concentrations over various time durations.
“Then we can basically resample those surfaces where the virus was applied, and ensure the virus is no longer present,” he said.
According to Frisky, SANOZONE technology — which uses wall sensors to monitor ozone levels in a given space over a duration of time — was verified to eradicate the novel coronavirus from surfaces when used correctly.
Testing is also underway on a liquid option that turns ozone into a safe, odourless mist for outdoor use.
“You can spray down playground equipment, park benches, things like that and it’s chemical free, it breaks down to oxygen and water,” he said, adding it can also be used in a venue like Mosaic Stadium.
“You can spray the seats and because it creates a really big cloud, you can do it really rapidly.”
Frisky said he’ll be taking a completed SANOZONE unit out for demonstrations starting this week.
Ground Effects Environmental is currently doing a production run, with commercial units available in about two to three weeks.
Frisky said the technology has already received large-order interest from the government of Dubai, the City of New York, universities, First Nation communities and Hutterite colonies. Individual businesses will also be able to purchase units.
“The opportunities are quite large. It will be interesting to see how the next few months turn out,” he said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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