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A Conversation with Colleen Costello on Visible Light Disinfection by Craig DiLouie of tED Magazine.

Visible Light Disinfection: I recently had the opportunity to interview Colleen Costello, Co-Founder and CEO, Vital Vio, Inc., on the topic of visible light disinfection for an article I wrote for the February 2019 issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED.

DiLouie: What is visible light disinfection, and how does it differ from other germicidal light technologies and disinfectant strategies?

Costello: Visible light disinfection offers a new way to kill germs safely, effectively, and now continuously. Vital Vio’s patented VioSafe® White Light Disinfection® LED technology harnesses specific wavelengths of visible light to excite certain molecules found in the cells of bacteria, mold and fungi, but not in those of humans, pets and plants. When these molecules are excited it causes a toxic reaction within the cell that leads to cell death. Unlike UV lighting, visible light disinfection is safe for continuous exposure for people and pets.

DiLouie: What pathogens does visible light disinfection eliminate, and what benefits does this produce? What is the business case?

Costello: Vital Vio’s patented VioSafe® White Light Disinfection® LED technology is proven to safely, effectively and continuously kill bacteria and other harmful organisms including: MRSA, Salmonella, E. coli, C. diff., mold and mildew (not viruses) growing on products and surfaces.

Intermittent cleaning (using chemicals or UV lighting, for example) has traditionally been used to disinfect. Harnessing the germ-killing capacity of visible light disinfection provides the new option of continuous disinfection, which is safe for human (and pet) exposure. Used in combination with traditional intermittent cleaning, Vital Vio’s VioSafe® continuously disinfecting technology is proven to eliminate up to 90 percent of bacteria and other harmful organisms growing on surfaces.

The business case: The vast majority of previously available cleaning methods and products require manual labor, done repeatedly day in and day out, to implement. This traditional intermittent cleaning may kill the germs when applied to the surface, but the germs then immediately begin to build up again between cleanings. Adding a layer of continuous visible light disinfection offers a seamless solution; having your lighting multi-task at all times in order to constantly combat those germs in the spaces that matter most to you. These clear advantages make continuous disinfection an asset to any facility manager, infection prevention specialist, quality control specialist, or anyone committed to providing the safest environment possible.

DiLouie: What are the pros and cons of visible light disinfection compared to other disinfection strategies?

Costello: Visible light disinfection provides safe, effective, and – the most noteworthy innovation – continuous disinfection. When the safe anti-bacterial LEDs are on, they are working to kill germs including bacteria, mold, and mildew that are constantly growing on surfaces. This disinfecting technique is most effective when used in combination with traditional intermittent cleaning.

Visible light LED disinfection technology is a continuous, not instantaneous, disinfection approach. It is intended to be used in conjunction with traditional, intermittent, disinfection. Each enhances the other.

DiLouie: What research validates the utility of this technology?

Costello: Vital Vio has multiple studies and reports that demonstrate the utility of the Vital Vio patented technology in a variety of situations, ranging from controlled laboratory settings to active trauma bays in hospitals to active agriculture facilities. While some of these tests have been performed by Vital Vio for customers, other studies have been performed by independent, third party academic sources each of which has published their results or has publications in varying stages of peer review.

Some studies performed on the efficacy of Vital Vio’s technology include research performed at the NY State Department of Health Wadsworth Biodefense Lab, University of North Carolina, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Cornell Food Sciences, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Case Western University, Stonybrook University Hospital, and Bayfront Health System with several more clinical and customer trials currently in progress.

DiLouie: What are typical applications for visible light disinfection? What is the most common application? What are poor applications?

Costello: Vital Vio’s patented White Light Disinfection® LED technology, which is proven to kill bacteria and other harmful organisms (not viruses) on surfaces. The technology is designed primarily for interior surface.

Vital Vio’s safe, non-chemical continuous disinfection solutions provide protection anywhere bacteria, mold and fungi are problematic. Think high-traffic areas, like kitchens, restrooms, airports and athletic facilities as well as high-risk areas like hospital trauma bays, agricultural & food-processing facilities, clean rooms and more. It can be used in hospitals, homes, public spaces, and workplaces: showers, nursery rooms, laundry rooms, hotel bathrooms, airplanes, cruise ships, food processing facilities, restaurant prep areas, cafeterias, day care centers, food trucks, athletic facilities, classrooms, dining halls, senior centers, wherever there are germs growing on surfaces.

Today, many solutions that use Vital Vio’s technology deliver both disinfection and illumination. But it is possible and practical to use our technology in places where disinfection is essential, but illumination is not.

DiLouie: In what luminaire types is visible light disinfection typically implemented? What is the most common luminaire type?

Costello: While available in a wide variety of architectural designs, troffers – 2’x2’ and 2’x4’ – are the most common types of luminaires powered by Vital Vio’s germ-killing LED technology, followed closely by recessed cans/downlights for both wet- (shower) and dry-area applications, and task lights, including undercabinet lights, bedside lamps and industrial task lights. Any luminaire which is currently suited for LED use can be tailored for disinfection LED integration.

DiLouie: How should electrical distributors sell visible light disinfection luminaires?

Costello: As electrical contractors become aware of lights that multi-task to disinfect and illuminate, they can differentiate themselves by educating their clients about the benefits of this protective technology.

Equally important is making sure electrical contractors know to not value-engineer disinfecting lighting products out of a lighting specification. Disinfecting luminaires do cost more than single purpose illumination-only fixtures, but are specified for particular locations because of the added benefit of the germ-killing capability. Sometimes, electrical contractors don’t know or understand that they can’t simply swap out those fixtures with a similar-looking, single-purpose, less expensive fixture.

When disinfecting light is specified – from the outset or as an add/alt – it is almost always at the request of the end-customer. Ordering and installing disinfecting lighting fixtures when they are specified provides customers with what they want and expect.

DiLouie: What do electrical contractors need to know? Are there any special requirements related to installation and functional testing?

Costello: Lights powered by VioSafe® LEDs are installed in the same way as single-purpose fixtures. They are compatible with most standard control devices and require no special equipment, knowledge, or skill for an electrical contractor to install.

DiLouie: What standards apply to this type of lighting, and what do they certify?

Costello: The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) – the international standards organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies – has certified that products Powered by Vital Vio are safe for continuous exposure and unrestricted use. IEC certifications are administered by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

DiLouie: Is visible light disinfection supplemented by other disinfection technologies, or is it sufficient standalone for its intended applications?

Costello: At any given time when Vital Vio’s White Light Disinfection lighting is on, it is working to disinfect the target area. It can be used alone, but is optimal to use it in combination with more traditional intermittent cleaning.

VioSafe White Light Disinfection begins working instantly – as soon as bacteria are exposed to the light the deadly reaction within the cells begins. Different types and strains of bacteria, mold and fungi are all killed at different rates. In a lab setting, real, meaningful (and what the scientific and medical communities call “statistically significant”) reductions of bacteria colony counts are seen in as little as 24 hours. Of course, in non-lab settings, bacteria are also reintroduced to environments at constant but highly variable rates.

It is common to think about disinfection procedures in terms of, “How fast,” does it work. Consider asking, “How long does it work?” Here’s why: clean and disinfect a surface. Now, touch your hand to it. Bacteria are deposited. Touch it again, more bacteria. Wait some time and airborne bacteria land on it, too. Once on the surface, these bacteria are free to multiply and spread, over and over, until the next time you come back to clean. That’s the nature of “intermittent cleaning procedures.”

Now imagine that surface is illuminated with VioSafe White Light Disinfection technology. You’re still cleaning intermittently. But between cleanings, the bacteria load on the surface is a fraction of what it would otherwise be because the VioSafe technology is continuously killing the bacteria that is redeposited. For example, in a tested active hospital trauma bay, significant bacteria reductions were achieved in as few as 2 weeks. Those lower levels of bacteria count were found to be maintained between intermittent cleanings. Continuous disinfection isn’t the same as intermittent disinfection; it’s an important, long-lasting addition to best-practices in infection control.

DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about visible light disinfection, what would it be?

Costello: There is a new tool to protect against the pervasive, deadly, and costly challenge of germs which installs exactly the same as existing lighting fixtures. LEDs currently on the market, can now multi-purpose to both illuminate a space and kill bacteria, fungi, and other organisms including Salmonella, E Coli, MRSA, mold and mildew. With just the flip of a switch businesses and homeowners can add a safe, effective, and continuous layer of protection against germs – bacteria, mold and mildew.

DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?

Costello: UV is a well-known disinfection tool, but it is not safe for human exposure as it degrades our DNA. Vital Vio’s technology is much different than a UV lighting disinfectant. Our technology uses LEDs to produce light in the visible region of the spectrum. Though there are often assumptions that UV is the only light based disinfection method, our technology does not emit UV light waves and our method of action for killing bacteria is entirely different and safe for human exposure.

For the full article at tED Magazine, click here.

Vital Vio's disinfection technology is available in select PMC Lighting products. For more information, contact us here at Western Lighting & Energy Controls. 

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