PJ Piper is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Far UV Technologies. He writes….
We all know by now that SARS-CoV-2 is not a virus that’s going to just miraculously up and disappear. Most Americans have figured out that even when COVID infections are on the decline, another wave is probably right around the corner.
In some ways, the situation today is even trickier to navigate than it was in March of 2020. Most public mask mandates have been lifted, including masking requirements on transportation, and case counts are now harder to confirm with at-home testing. Early on, masks, social distancing, and eventually, vaccines, appeared to be our best defense against a virus that could easily spread in the air from person to person, especially indoors. These defensive measures, however, have continued to fall short as they do nothing to reduce the increasingly infectious viral load in the air all around us.
Poorly ventilated rooms are a disaster waiting to happen; a prime example being the recent Gridiron Dinner in Washington, DC. More than 70 of the nation’s most influential power brokers were infected as they, and many across the nation, have once again begun letting down their guard. While proof of vaccination and same-day testing was required for the event, the many unmasked attendees were virtually naked to anyone who might have had COVID and sure enough, many of them were infected.
We now know that masks, social distancing, same-day testing, and vaccines can help but don’t offer enough protection, particularly against increasingly infectious variants. Technology can dramatically improve indoor air quality, finally providing the necessary autonomous and continuous protection to reduce transmission. The White House even acknowledged this reality in March, highlighting the importance of indoor air quality. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy pointed out that multiple Air Changes per Hour (ACH) should be considered as a critical component in mitigating COVID transmission.
So how do you achieve the higher air changes needed to effectively mitigate the risk of indoor transmission?
Opening our windows and relying on potential wind alone is not reliable. Mechanical solutions, such as putting a fan in those windows, or utilizing standalone HEPA filters, have been proven to help. Unfortunately, however, they’re flow-limited, noisy at higher equivalent ACH, and have fallen short in CDC testing even with the less infectious delta variant.
Our current HVAC systems won’t cut it either. For decades engineers have designed these systems around optimal climate control (temperature and humidity) and energy efficiency. Having to recondition outside air to room temperature, especially in hot or cold climates, is simply way too expensive and not practical.
Utilizing higher MERV rated filters, HEPA filters or ultraviolet (UV) light in the ductwork also does not increase the airflow any more than before, not to mention that there has also been no documented evidence of transmission of COVID through ductwork. Since the contamination events predominantly happen when an infected person is breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing, or singing, any meaningful improvement in Indoor Air Quality must be accomplished INSIDE the room WHEN it is occupied.
This pretty much narrows it down to two more advanced ultraviolet (UV) strategies, either Upper Room 254nm wavelength UV, or Whole Room 222nm wavelength Far UV. Both of these strategies can increase the equivalent ACH by 10 times or more from the aforementioned conventional systems. They offer the best protection possible to reduce or eliminate the threat and create a built environment that is even substantially better than it was before COVID, allowing us to also reduce or eliminate previous illness caused by the common cold, flu, adenoviruses, and more.
UV light has over eighty years of history as the most effective tool against the threat of airborne pathogens in schools, healthcare, and other applications, effectively targeting measles, influenza, tuberculosis, and other types of diseases. It remains the preferred disinfection solution for our municipal drinking water and hospital operating rooms. Harvard Medical School estimates that UV light can provide over twenty air changes per hour (ACH) at 1/13th the cost of ventilation and 1/3rd the cost of HEPA filters. UV disinfection light, importantly, doesn’t depend on human behavior to be effective, eliminating the potentially contentious issues surrounding our other commonly used interventions like masks, vaccines and more recently, pharmaceuticals.
Continuing advances with Far UVC solutions utilizing 222nm wavelengths, in particular, have extended its use into occupied facilities and vehicles while remaining in compliance with all OSHA safety guidelines, which have been in place for 50 years. Far UVC is a significant step forward, because, unlike Upper Room UV systems, Far UV does not rely on air mixing with ceiling fans to treat the air above people’s heads. Instead, it can be used in downlights and wall-mounted units to treat the air and surfaces in between and all around us.
Far UV Technologies has had over 1,000 installations in place for over a year in schools, transportation, healthcare and defense applications all the way up to the Pentagon. No reported cases of transmission have been noted, even in the presence of documented cases of infected people entering those facilities.
So, what’s holding us back from wider adoption of this technology, which really can help us get back to the normal we desire, or even better than we were before COVID?
It is, somewhat surprisingly, not cost-related. While masks, social distancing, and vaccines have been low cost, if not free, we have all experienced the excessive costs with missing work due to infections in our families and the additional costs the administrative preventative measures have had on our productivity. The pre-COVID cost of the previous state of our Indoor Air Quality was $7,000 per worker.
With a US workforce of over 157.5 million, not addressing Indoor Air Quality with effective tools had already been costing the US over $1 trillion a year. As with most technological solutions, this benefit will be best recognized in hindsight, after implementation as people still, to a large extent, believe that they just have to live with pathogens in their environment as an unfortunate fact of life or fate, even if we now have the tools to make this profound change for humankind. When factoring in these avoided costs, the benefit of installing Far UV systems often exceeds 1,000%.
If this tremendous cost avoidance benefit wasn’t enough, there has been significant COVID relief money distributed to states, local governments, and school districts to make the necessary improvements to protect our public infrastructure. Schools can implement these for at no cost by utilizing a small fraction of their “use-it-or-lose-it” unspent ESSER money that they otherwise don’t know how to spend. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed last fall and being rolled out now, also provides funding in areas like transportation, public facilities and more.
The most common reasons for our collective inaction to improve Indoor Air Quality appears to be COVID fatigue, a lack of awareness of the preferred solutions, and perhaps a lack of guidance from the academic, public health, and government authorities. We have historically trusted these entities to help assist in making these decisions as additional cover for those unwilling to make the decisions we need to make on their own.
That said, health experts around the country agree that this technology is our best bet and their drumbeat is getting louder. A group of them, including Dr. Ed Nardell of the Harvard Medical School, recently laid out the case for UV technology in the New York Times. More recently, in the Washington Post, Dr. Don Milton and Dr. David Michael, previously head of OSHA, both have become more vocal in calling out those who prefer to do nothing new and expect a different result. At some point, our building codes will inevitably include provisions for Indoor Air Quality.
As the barriers to adoption appear to be falling, we can look forward to the silver lining of the pandemic, which is that our Indoor Air Quality can, and inevitably will, soon be the best in human history. With the tools we have developed and are implementing now, the threat of ever having to go through another episode like COVID can be behind us as we mitigate or eliminate the threat of future airborne infectious diseases.
Editor’s Note: About PJ Piper Bio: PJ Piper is the Founder, CEO and Chairman of Far UV Technologies, whose Krypton Far UV disinfection lighting is being adopted around the world as an important tool to target microorganisms, improving indoor air quality.
Piper is an accomplished entrepreneur, board member, and investment banker with over 25 years of experience in Health and Hygiene, Clean Tech, Autonomous Vehicles, AgTech, E-commerce, FinTech, and Artificial Intelligence.