NYC Subway is using UV light to kill COVID-19. Here’s how it works.

The effort is part of a partnership between the MTA and Columbia University, which theorizes that UV light can be used to kill COVID-19 on NYC subways and buses.
subway covid NYC

Demonstration of UV disinfecting technology at the Corona Maintenance Facility on Tue., May 19, 2020. Photo: MTA New York City Transit

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched its pilot to use powerful ultraviolet lamps to disinfect New York City’s subways and buses.

The agency says it will deploy 150 mobile devices to clean subways, buses, and subway stations as part of the first phase of the pilot. The second phase will focus on MetroNorth and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains. The MTA says it will spend $1 million on the project, according to NY1.

The 150 dual-headed mobile devices from Denver-based startup Puro Lighting will be deployed at stations and rail yards to see how effective the UVC technology is in those settings, the MTA said. After evaluation, a second phase will expand to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter lines.

“The UV light that will be used in the current overnight subway and bus disinfection program is very efficient in killing the virus that is responsible for COVID-19,” said David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, in a statement. “What we are doing here is reducing the level of the virus in subways, and therefore decreasing the risk of anybody catching COVID-19 on the subway.”

The lamps emit rays called “UVC,” a relatively obscure part of the spectrum that consists of a shorter, more energetic wavelength of light that can be harmful to humans if exposed directly. The MTA says it will be following strict protocols “to ensure the safety of the employees and customers.”

UVC is particularly good at killing organic material — whether in humans or viral particles — and some experts believe it can be effective in destroying the novel coronavirus.

UVC lamps and robots are commonly used to sanitize water, objects such as laboratory equipment, and spaces such as buses and airplanes. If the MTA results are good, transit officials said they will expand the pilot to include more trains and buses.

NYC subway covid

“This crisis creates opportunities to bring in new technologies to solve once-in-a-generation challenge. The MTA is showing how it can rise to the occasion by innovating quickly and safely,” MTA Chief Innovation Officer Mark Dowd said.

Earlier this month. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the subway system — the nation’s largest — would shut down overnight service so trains can be disinfected amid the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the first such closure in the subway system’s 115-year history except in times of emergency. MTA Interim President Sarah Feinberg said she’s “open to any and every idea to keep the system safe.”


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