Are ultraviolet (UV) devices effective against coronavirus? Are they safe to use? Get insights from NEMA, ALA, UL

by Brianna Crandall — September 17, 2020 — The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) partnered with the American Lighting Association and UL to release a position paper last month on the safe use of ultraviolet (UV) light for sanitizing and germicidal capabilities in the face of COVID-19. The position paper has two goals: to bring attention to UV light device safety risks and to help manufacturers, retailers, and consumers understand which devices are built to be safe and under what conditions they can be operated safely.

Ultraviolet-C (UVC) Germicidal Devices: What Consumers Need to Know provides a more in-depth look at the UVC germicidal devices available to consumers and their potential to cause injuries to humans and pets, as well as damage to plants and materials.

Ultraviolet (UV) light device

“Ultraviolet-C (UVC) Germicidal Devices: What Consumers Need to Know” explores UV germicidal benefits as well as safety issues. Image courtesy NEMA

Karen Willis, NEMA industry director, Lighting Systems Division, stated:

We know that UVC is a proven way to help eliminate dangerous bacteria and viruses in water, air, and on surfaces. Nevertheless, during COVID-19, we are concerned about the proliferation of UVC disinfecting devices being sold with uncertain safety features and incomplete operating instructions.

Establishing and maintaining the safety of UVC devices is a priority for NEMA and the lighting industry in all sectors, including consumer, commercial, and healthcare applications. We are proud to be a part of this important educational effort.

Todd Straka, global industry director of the UL Lighting division, added:

We are all deeply concerned about the impacts and elimination of COVID-19 and what can be done to mitigate the spread of the virus. In this global situation, the growing interest in sanitation and germicidal properties is putting UVC devices in greater focus than ever before.

There has been an alarming rise in the availability of consumer-facing ultraviolet germicidal devices that do not effectively contain UVC light and carry very serious risks, including permanent eye, skin, and lung damage. This is a major safety issue that urgently needs to be communicated to consumers and potential users of these devices. By teaming up with ALA and NEMA, who also share these concerns, we seek to educate consumers and manufacturers regarding the potential safety risk implications of using UVC light.

Ultraviolet (UV) naturally occurs in three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC, all of which have certain benefits and pose certain hazards, explains NEMA. While UVC is the type that has proven to have the most germicidal benefits, including killing bacteria and inactivating viruses, any uncontained UVC exposure that is strong enough to kill germs is a risk to people, pets and plants.

Terry K. McGowan, director, Engineering and Technology, American Lighting Association, remarked:

Uncontained UVC germicidal products used in a healthcare setting do have benefits to help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, unlike those being marketed to consumers, those used in such settings  are in the hands of trained professionals who have taken appropriate safety training and use the appropriate protective equipment to take precautions against UVC overexposure.

As the leading residential lighting industry trade association, it is our duty to promote the proper, safe application of lighting products, while also communicating to our members and the public lighting safety risks. By collaborating on the UVC position paper with safety expert UL and NEMA, ALA wants to help communicate to the lighting industry the importance of developing and marketing products that can be safely operated without risk to human health.

The Ultraviolet-C (UVC) Germicidal Devices: What Consumers Need to Know position paper is available for free download from the NEMA website.