Tube ramps up anti-viral regime with dynamo-powered UV lights


Hundreds of the devices will be installed on London’s tube network.

(c) Transport for London

Over 200 devices that use ultraviolet light to sanitize surfaces are to be installed across London’s sprawling tube network.

In a statement Monday, Transport for London said the technology would be deployed on the handrails of 110 escalators over the next few weeks.

According to TfL, the devices utilizes a “small dynamo” to produce power from the handrail’s movement, which in turn powers the UV bulb used to sanitize its surface.

The rollout comes off the back of a six-week trial at a tube station serving Heathrow Airport. Six escalators at King’s Cross St Pancras have now been fitted with the devices, which will also be used at other major stops such as Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Waterloo.

The deployment of the technology comes at a time when concern over the cleanliness of surfaces is heightened due to the coronavirus pandemic, although there is debate within the scientific community about the risk of transmission from inanimate objects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website: “It is possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.”

However, it adds: “Spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads.” The most common way the virus spreads is through close contact between people, according to the CDC.

In relation to its own operations, TfL said: “While UV light has been proven to de-activate previous strains of coronavirus, Covid-19 is still too new for similar clinical trials to have concluded in the UK.” 

The transport body did note, however, that the devices in its trial had improved “the cleanliness of escalator handrail surfaces by at least 50 per cent.”

TfL is one of many organizations ramping up efforts to keep high footfall spaces clean. It says its “anti-viral cleaning regime” includes the use of “hospital-grade cleaning substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact and provide ongoing disinfection.”

In addition, over 1,000 hand sanitizing stations have been introduced to the network, while passengers must wear face coverings when using its services, although there are some exemptions.

There are three main kinds of UV radiation: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has described the latter as a “known disinfectant for air, water, and nonporous surfaces” and it is this which being used on London’s tube network.

Indeed, for many years now, UV-C has been used in a range of sectors, from retail and transport to office spaces.

The consumer market is also turning to UV-C lighting. Signify – a major player in the lighting sector – now offers what it describes as “desk lamps” for sale in select countries in Asia that can be used to disinfect homes.



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