Why We Aren’t Using UV to Disinfect Everything—Yet

Negative perception and costs pose obstacles to a promising technology

Julie Halpert
OneZero
Published in
6 min readJun 15, 2020

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Photo: Xenex Disinfection Services, Inc.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, a technology that has existed for over 100 years is getting renewed attention as a promising disinfection tool. Ultraviolet germicidal radiation, which uses short-wavelength UV rays to kill bacteria and viruses, is already used to disinfect air, water, and surfaces in limited settings. In May, a report by the Illuminating Engineering Society, an authority on lighting technology, showed that UV-C germicidal radiation can play a key role in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19. Now some companies whose products use this technology are seeing heightened interest.

“The manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand right now,” says Edward A. Nardell, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “You’re going to see UV widely used as we continue with this pandemic and have no treatment.” This technology has previously been used in health care settings and is a standard method of potable water treatment, but it hasn’t been widely embraced because of negative public perception and concerns about costs.

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Julie Halpert
OneZero
Writer for

Julie Halpert has been a freelance journalist for over three decades. Her wide ranging focus includes science, parenting, personal finance and retirement.