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Should Your School Invest in UV Light Disinfection?

May 17, 2023by Global Ozone

When Covid first rocked the world, we all got a little creative with our disinfection routines (you may remember the hand sanitizer made from tequila). In search of a quick way to disinfect big areas, many schools looked to UV lights — but are they worth the investment? 

We took a closer look at the effectiveness of UV on germs, the cost, and the alternatives, so you don’t have to. Here’s what you need to know before installing new sanitizing systems: 

How does UV disinfection work? 

UV sanitizers rely on UVC, a different kind of ultraviolet rays than the ones that cause your sunburn at the beach (UVA and UVB). Earth’s ozone layer naturally blocks UVC rays from entering our atmosphere — but with UV light generators, they can be used for disinfection.

The UV lamps generate electromagnetic energy that hits the germs and destroys their genetic material (either DNA or RNA), preventing their ability to reproduce. The amount of time it takes to disinfect varies based on the power of the UV lamp, the surface, temperature, humidity, and the type of germs present.

Is UV disinfection effective?

The research is still mixed on the effectiveness of UVC disinfection in schools — largely because the market is unregulated. 

Hospitals often rely on UV sanitizing within their HVAC systems to prevent the spread of airborne diseases like measles. And in hospitals, they’re doing their job well; a study found that UVC reduced instances of C. difficile, MRSA, and two other antibiotic-resistant bacteria by 30%. But since they’re used in medical settings, these UV sanitizers are classified as medical devices and are subject to FDA authorization.

On the other hand, the UV disinfection devices being marketed to schools are not regulated by the EPA or FDA, so the manufacturers can make broad, unchecked claims about the effectiveness of their UV products. And since you can’t actually see the germs getting killed with your naked eye, you probably won’t know if it’s insufficient until you see a major outbreak in your school. 

On top of the regulation concerns, even the best UV sanitizer only works when directly applied to the surface. Obstacles as small as specks of dust, oils, and soil can create “microshadows” which prevent complete disinfection.

Are UV sanitizers safe? 

UVC radiation is different from the UVA and UVB radiation that affects our skin (which can cause skin cancer). Instead of causing your regular sunburn, UVC radiation can cause damage to the eyes and serious burns to the skin when improperly used. And unfortunately, a number of manufacturers are marketing unsafe products that could put students and staff at risk of exposure. In Cobb County, Georgia, the Department of Education spent over $750,000 on a UV light system that malfunctioned, leaving parents concerned about their children’s health. 

Another concern for schools: mercury poisoning. UV is generated by running an electric current through a mercury arc lamp — so if they break, everyone is exposed to mercury. And let’s be honest, classrooms aren’t the safest place to keep something breakable and extremely dangerous. 

On top of the risk of bodily harm, UV disinfection can degrade your materials quicker than other solutions. The light deteriorates plastics, polymers, and dyed textiles at a much higher rate — so prepare to replace uniforms, tables, and athletic equipment more often.

Alternative Sanitation Solutions for Schools

While the jury is still out on UV for schools, many experts, parents, and teachers alike are arguing against them. Their questions about efficacy, safety, budget, and classroom disruption certainly put a damper on the original hype around UV disinfection.

Still looking for an easier way to sanitize your school, without all the doubt and confusion around UV? Look no further. 

Ozone gas permeates your equipment, uniforms, and even shoes to completely rid them of odor and germs — no need to worry about missing spots due to microshadows. Not only is ozone a more powerful disinfectant, but its efficacy has also been proven through much research and testing. And unlike other sanitizing solutions, ozone doesn’t cause your gear and equipment to deteriorate faster. While ozone should still be handled with caution, it’s safer than the potential mercury poisoning and burns that could result from UV lamps. 

Our Sports-O-Zone and Gear Blaster products are designed to eliminate common locker room bugs like MRSA, Staph, and E. coli, but they can also sanitize your shared lab gear or even your whole classroom. 

Ready to do disinfection right at your school? Get in touch with us today.