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J Occup Environ Hyg. 2005 May;2(5):285-92.

Monitoring human exposures to upper-room germicidal ultraviolet irradiation.

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  • 1Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


After decades of neglect, the resurgence of tuberculosis in the United States between 1985 and 1992 renewed interest in the use of upper room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to interrupt the transmission of airborne infections. More recently the bioterrorism threat and the appearance of new pathogens with the potential for airborne spread, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), have stimulated installations of upper-room irradiation systems. The objective is to flood the entire volume of a room above 6.5 ft with high intensity ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, while minimizing unintentional irradiance below 6.5 ft to avoid eye and skin irritation. Air exchanges between the upper and lower room result in air disinfection of the occupied space. Designers of these systems have adopted the practice of limiting the maximum lower room irradiance at every point to less than the continuous 8-hour time-weighted average threshold limit value, severely limiting the irradiation intensity in the upper room and thereby reducing one of the two major factors determining germicidal effectiveness, the other being room air mixing. The hypothesis of this study is that eye and skin exposure will be well below the recommended safe dose even when maximum eye-level irradiance levels in the room exceed the 8-hour continuous exposure threshold limit. The method employed was to have subjects wear a small photometer that recorded total ultraviolet dose over the period of exposure while subjects went about their normal routine, and comparing this value with a hypothetical dose calculated from the highest measured eye-level irradiance. The results of the study, based on a limited number of observations, confirmed the hypothesis. Observed doses were one-third to a factor of a hundred or more lower than the doses calculated from maximum eye-level irradiances measurements in the occupants' spaces.

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