Lethal light

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From radio signals to gamma waves, the electromagnetic spectrum offers considerable potential to prepare and preserve food products. Knowing precisely which wavelength in the spectrum to apply to a particular need is only the first step, however: scientists and engineers also need to fabricate systems that can withstand the rigors of an industrial environment. The application of UVC, short-wave ultraviolet in the C band range (200 to 280 nanometers) to inactivate mold, bacteria, fungus, viruses and other spoilage organisms illustrates the development challenge.

UV lamps to treat germicidal disease date to the 19th Century, when Nobel laureate Niels Ryberg Finsen used UV to treat skin infections in treatments that presaged today’s chemotherapy. After the 1976 Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak in a Philadelphia hotel, medical science linked Legionella bacteria to heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that can spread bacteria and viruses thriving in warm,moist environments.Among the scientists who worked on a solution was Brad C.Hollander,who developed a UVC lamp to improve indoor air quality.Hollander was issued a patent in 1994 for an electric discharge device to sterilize HVAC air, and the following year Steril-Aire Inc. was established to commercialize the technology.The company now is based in Burbank, CA, and is headed by Robert S. Scheir, president and chairman.

In one of the 10 US patents assigned to Steril-Aire, Scheir cites a study involving a 20-year-old HVAC system in City of Industry, CA. Biocides, high-pressure sprayers and other treatments provided temporary removal of mold and bacteria from the cooling coils, but buildup resumed in as few as three days. The inventor configured germicidal lamps to permanently resolve microbial encrustation on the coils and boost heat transfer efficiency up to 30 percent, improving airflow and energy efficiency by a similar amount.

Scheir holds a PhD in medical microbiology from UCLA and performed graduate studies in immunochemistry at the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Before joining Steril-Aire, he was a senior scientist at McDonald-Douglas Corp., specializing in biological-warfare detection instrumentation.

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