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Disinfecting with light

 

Ever thought that light would help disinfect rooms and surfaces? Let’s explore this new efficient method...

 

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Technology
 
October 27, 2020
 
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Disinfecting with light
 

Disinfection has taken on a new meaning in the past months. People are rapidly adopting newer technologies to disinfect more efficiently. One such technology promises to automatically eliminate all bacteria and viruses from indoor surfaces while being 100% safe for people. And it’s not just a promise anymore – the system is successfully being used in several hospitals, nursing homes and the processing industry in Europe.

The concept

The new technology is called Blue Light Photon Disinfection. A room is equipped with powerful LED luminaires that emit only certain specific wavelengths of blue light with a high intensity. Visible blue light means that our eyes can sense it, and it is does not contain dangerous ultraviolet light. The idea is to make working spaces safe for staff and customers with an automatic system that eliminates microbes around the clock, tirelessly, and with consistent results. The technology has been perfected by LED Tailor Ltd from Finland, a leading global photon disinfection solutions company.

Cleaning of loose dirt and stains is still needed, so the system does not replace manual cleaning. It, however, boosts surface hygiene to a new level, working side-by-side with the cleaning staff, and ensures the quality of cleaning and safety of the spaces with consistent and automatic operation.

The light-based system is also chemical-free and waste-free, which makes it sustainable and environmental. It is already being used in spaces ranging from hospital operating rooms and nursing homes to office meeting rooms, schools, and kindergartens.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Believe me; this is not science fiction – the technology works and is ready to be put into use in the Middle East too.

How it works

The germicidal effect of blue light is based on light-sensitive compounds found in all bacteria, yeast, and mold cells. When these compounds are exposed to high-intensity blue light, a natural chemical reaction starts where free oxygen radicals are formed inside the cell. These free radicals are highly reactive molecules that start deteriorating the cells from within by damaging their internal structures. When kept going on for long enough, the reaction kills the microbes.

The effect has been known for a hundred years, and it has been studied vigorously – there are some 2,000 peerreviewed research articles on the effect of blue light. Yet, only recently, thanks to the advances in LED technology, have we been able to cost-efficiently produce pure blue light with high intensity. The new technology has led to advanced innovations and commercial availability. LED Tailor is a pioneer in this segment and has developed the superlatively efficient light-based disinfection systems.

Because visible light is 100% safe for people – we do not have these same light-sensitive compounds as the microbes do – the blue lights can be on all the time, even when the room is occupied. Often, however, the lights are set to be switched off automatically when people enter the room, because a room filled with blue light looks quite unnatural and can also be inconvenient to work in.

There is more; scientists have a consensus that because of the way how blue light damages microbes, microbes cannot develop resistance against it. This is important especially in the hospital sector, which is plagued with superbacteria that are known to be able to develop resistance against known antibiotics and cleaning agents. Unlike UV light, there are no known hazards in using blue light, making it the perfect and safe solution for people's spaces.

Performance-wise, compared to wiping surfaces with alcohol for instance, blue light requires a longer exposure time: minutes with alcohol compared to e.g., one hour with blue light. This difference is, however, in practice diminished by the blue light system’s ability to perform frequent and consistent disinfection cycles over and over again, unsupervised and without needing any human input.

It is also anti-viral

Blue light alone kills all bacteria, mold, and yeasts. To fight viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), LED Tailor has developed a complete disinfection system where the room is equipped with the blue lights and a Photocatalytic Coating. The Photocatalytic Coating is an invisible layer that is sprayed on the room’s surfaces. When activated with blue light, the coating disintegrates all organic compounds touching it, including viruses. The process is called photocatalysis.

The complete LED Tailor system can also disintegrate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors – it can even remove the smell of cigarettes from rooms and furniture. In Finland and other European countries the system is being used to improve air quality in schools and other public buildings suffering from moisture-related mold issues.

The applications of Photon Disinfection

Because it is safe and straightforward to install - plug in a mobile unit or attach lights to the ceiling - the blue light photon disinfection is virtually usable everywhere where surfaces need to be disinfected: hospital operating rooms, elevators, buses, trains, airplanes, cruise ships, meeting rooms, pointof- sale cash registers, restaurants, bathrooms – the possibilities are endless.

The technology also integrates well into existing machines and equipment; for example, in the food processing industry, the manufacturing and packaging lines can be kept microbefree with constant blue light illumination. Similarly, cleanrooms used in electronics and pharmaceutical manufacturing can achieve an even better hygiene level when using blue lights, without jeopardizing their expensive machinery and delicate processes.

The need for alternate disinfection strategies

Despite advances in modern medicine, our society is still susceptible to pandemics and viral infections. New defenses are being developed and taken into use, yet no single technical method will ever guarantee 100% safety against infections.

Instead, we talk about the chain of infection – we must mitigate the risk of infection at all different stages and situations where it can spread from one person to another. Fixing one problem does not help if others are not being tackled at the same time. The COVID-19 has been a stark reminder for us all about the importance of good hygiene – washing hands and wearing a mask in public spaces can make a huge difference in how the pathogens are able to spread.

Periodic cleaning of surfaces is also a must, as dirty surfaces are a perfect hiding place for microbes. Studies show that the Coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for several days. Some bacteria can survive on surfaces for weeks or even months. However, manual cleaning and personal hygiene practices alone are no longer enough, and a change of strategy is needed. Especially in all spaces where we have many people gathering together – public transport, workplaces, even hospitals – new methods are needed. Both social distancing and powerful air ventilation are needed to prevent infection through airborne virus aerosols. Systems for the frequent and automatic disinfection of surfaces are needed to prevent touch-transmitted infections.

It is especially in such circumstances where the new technologies like blue light photon disinfection have a lot to give to our society and can help the cleaning industry to provide healthier and safer spaces for people. Surface disinfection counts, because clean hands do no good if the next handrail or door handle you touch contains live pathogens. The public’s trust in air travel, trains, and buses cannot be restored before there is a constant, measurable defense in place. People will not want to return to offices or gyms until the spaces are perceived safe. In the same way as hospital-acquired infections and so-called hospital superbugs are being fought with new technology, we can apply these same solutions into public places.

Acceptability of new technologies

Experts and other innovators will be the first users of new technologies like Blue Light Photon Disinfection. For LED Tailor, the first users have been university hospitals interested in improving their operating rooms' hygiene levels and eliminating hospital-acquired infections.

Other users and industries have followed, with installations being made on cruise ships, in schools, offices, day care centers, and elevators. The technology is based on microbiological research and state of the art engineering. The abundance of scientific evidence and customer references makes it easy for any professional to agree that it works. We also encourage our customers to set up their own microbiological testing before and after installing the LED Tailor system. The customer satisfaction rate remains at 100%. There are not many technologies on this planet that can say the same.

The technology exists, and it works. We see that the time is now for governments and businesses in the Middle East to be in the frontline and protect their people and businesses with this technology.

The challenges involved

As with any new technology, the hurdles faced by blue light photon disinfection are related to old habits and the fear of making technology choices. To most people, disinfection means using chemicals and liquids to wipe surfaces. The cleaning industry uses a massive amount of various chemicals in inhabited offices and homes. These chemicals bear an environmental cost when manufactured. They may also cause long-term health issues for the people using them and for the people working or living in the spaces. If we could replace part of this chemical load with an automatic, light-based system, our society could benefit from the lessened environmental damages and the spaces' improved healthiness.

When it comes to disinfection with light, ultraviolet light (UV) is what most people, even medical experts, understand as the germicidal light. Thanks to many years of public education about the dangers of too much sunlight exposure, most people today are aware of ultraviolet light’s hazards for people and surfaces. UV can cause skin damage and even cancer, and it can permanently damage your eyes. That is why UV light should never be used for disinfecting rooms or other open spaces where people can accidentally enter during the disinfection cycle. UV light definitely has a role in disinfection – it is best used in a closed cabinet or inside air conditioning systems, where it can be kept in control.

Confusing blue light and UV is common. The concept of safe visible light being able to eliminate microbes is new to most people, and many are skeptical when they first hear about it. However, all experts in the field can easily agree that it is the best available technology for disinfecting surfaces and rooms when shown the independent research articles and findings.

Then there is, of course, the cost – the blue light system requires installing new luminaires into the facilities. There is therefore always a small up-front investment. The decision-makers can make a lifetime cost evaluation, comparing blue lights against existing solutions such as chemicals, chemical wipes, UVC robots, labor and ecological aspects. The blue light technology has a cost to install but it works for ten or more years, uninterrupted. Especially for highvolume users the choice is clear.

Blue indeed is clean – ecological, safe, and effective.

About the Author:

Petri Snellman is the Director, Sales and Business Development, Middle East Region at LED Tailor

 

 

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