Ontario Tech professor says far-UVC light could curtail COVID-19 transmission

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Ontario Tech professor says far-UVC light could curtail virus transmission
WATCH: A professor at Oshawa's Ontario Tech University says early research into a form of ultraviolet light that's intended to prevent COVID-19 transmission is yielding positive results. – Nov 17, 2020

An Ontario Tech University professor in the faculty of energy systems and nuclear science says early research into a form of ultra-violet light that’s intended to prevent COVID-19 transmission is yielding positive results.

Through computer simulations, Kirk Atkinson is exploring preliminary research from Columbia University in the U.S. that suggests far-UVC lamps could be used to significantly reduce the spread of the virus in enclosed spaces.

“We found that we could get upwards of 85 per cent of (virus) killings in the air using this approach,” Atkinson says.

Atkinson says this is a particular type of ultraviolet light, and it’s not the kind you can buy in stores. However, the researcher claims it has the potential to be just as effective in curtailing transmission as wearing an N95 mask. In addition to its potential ability to reduce the spread of the disease, he says these types of lights also have fewer health implications in comparison to air purifiers and regular UVC lights.

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“An air purifier probably has a (regular UVC) light in it,” Atkinson says. “That UVC light, if it gets on your skin or in your eyes, it can cause cancer or cataracts.”

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The Ontario Tech professor is among a group of researchers from all over the world, including from Columbia University, working collaboratively to further studies on the lamps.

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“How would you take this forward so that you could install them in a room? Do you put them in the center of the room, or on the edge?” he asked rhetorically.

“All of these different problems would take far too many practical experiments to do. What we’re able to do, is to do that on the computer, and we then get the results out that we can demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods.”

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Atkinson is also working with researchers to monitor a real-life experiment that is currently happening in a coffee shop in New York City. The business has installed far-UVC lamps. The study will look at the overall performance of the lights and try to determine logistics that would help with preferred placement and ideal surroundings.

Although it may be a potential alternative to wearing masks, there are still several questions and concerns when it comes to the price of the lights and how to get them into the hands of Canadians.

Atkinson says the technology is available right now online, but it could cost upwards of $1,000. In addition, it’s not currently being manufactured in Canada.

“Yes they are on the pricier side,” he said.

“The reason for that is the amount of people that are making them. Right now, where we (stand), there’s a limited number of manufacturers.”

Atkinson and his colleagues are currently exploring ways to manufacture the product to make it more affordable, so that it can be implemented broadly, including long-term care homes, hospitals and schools.

“It would be significant, not just for COVID, but for any kind of airborne virus or bacteria going forward.”

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