Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation sterilization and how dose it work?

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions. UVGI is used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water purification.

UV-C light is weak at the Earth's surface as the ozone layer of the atmosphere blocks it. UVGI devices can produce strong enough UV-C light in circulating air or water systems to make them inhospitable environments to microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens. UVGI can be coupled with a filtration system to sanitize air and water.

The application of UVGI to disinfection has been an accepted practice since the mid-20th century. It has been used primarily in medical sanitation and sterile work facilities. Increasingly it has been employed to sterilize drinking and wastewater, as the holding facilities are enclosed and can be circulated to ensure a higher exposure to the UV. In recent years UVGI has found renewed application in air purifiers.

The effectiveness of germicidal UV depends on the length of time a microorganism is exposed to UV, the intensity and wavelength of the UV radiation, the presence of particles that can protect the microorganisms from UV, and a microorganism’s ability to withstand UV during its exposure.

In many systems, redundancy in exposing microorganisms to UV is achieved by circulating the air or water repeatedly. This ensures multiple passes so that the UV is effective against the highest number of microorganisms and will irradiate resistant microorganisms more than once to break them down.

The effectiveness of this form of sterilization depends on line-of-sight exposure of the microorganisms to the UV light. Environments where design creates obstacles that block the UV light are not as effective. In such an environment, the effectiveness is then reliant on the placement of the UVGI system so that line of sight is optimum for disinfection.

"Sterilization" is often misquoted as being achievable. While it is theoretically possible in a controlled environment, it is very difficult to prove and the term "disinfection" is generally used by companies offering this service as to avoid legal reprimand. Specialist companies will often advertise a certain log reduction e.g., 99.9999% effective, instead of sterilization. This takes into consideration a phenomenon known as light and dark repair (photoreactivation and base excision repair, respectively), in which a cell can repair DNA that has been damaged by UV light.

Dust and films coating the bulb lower UV output. Therefore, bulbs require periodic cleaning and replacement to ensure effectiveness. The lifetime of germicidal UV bulbs varies depending on design. Also, the material that the bulb is made of can absorb some of the germicidal rays.

Lamp cooling under airflow can also lower UV output; thus, care should be taken to shield lamps from direct airflow, or to add additional lamps to compensate for the cooling effect.

Increases in effectiveness and UV intensity can be achieved by using reflection. Aluminum has the highest reflectivity rate versus other metals and is recommended when using UV.

One method for gauging UV effectiveness is to compute UV dose. The U.S. EPA publishes UV dosage guidelines for water treatment applications. UV dose cannot be measured directly but can be inferred based on the known or estimated inputs to the process:

    Flow rate (contact time)
    Transmittance (light reaching the target)
    Turbidity (cloudiness)
    Lamp age or fouling or outages (reduction in UV intensity)

Inactivation of microorganisms

The degree of inactivation by ultraviolet radiation is directly related to the UV dose applied to the water. The dosage, a product of UV light intensity and exposure time, is usually measured in microjoules per square centimeter, or equivalently as microwatt seconds per square centimeter (µW·s/cm2). Dosages for a 90% kill of most bacteria and viruses range from 2,000 to 8,000 µW·s/cm2. Larger parasites such as cryptosporidium require a lower dose for inactivation. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted UV disinfection as a method for drinking water plants to obtain cryptosporidium, giardia or virus inactivation credits. For example, for one-decimal-logarithm reduction of cryptosporidium, a minimum dose of 2,500 µW·s/cm2 is required based on the U.S. EPA UV Guidance Manual published in 2006.

UV water treatment devices can be used for well water and surface water disinfection. UV treatment compares favorably with other water disinfection systems in terms of cost, labor, and the need for technically trained personnel for operation. Water chlorination treats larger organisms and offers residual disinfection, but these systems are expensive because they need special operator training and a steady supply of a potentially hazardous material. Finally, boiling of water is the most reliable treatment method but it demands labor, and imposes a high economic cost. UV treatment is rapid and, in terms of primary energy use, approximately 20,000 times more efficient than boiling.

UV disinfection is most effective for treating high-clarity, purified reverse osmosis distilled water. Suspended particles are a problem because microorganisms buried within particles are shielded from the UV light and pass through the unit unaffected. However, UV systems can be coupled with a pre-filter to remove those larger organisms that would otherwise pass through the UV system unaffected. The pre-filter also clarifies the water to improve light transmittance and therefore UV dose throughout the entire water column. Another key factor of UV water treatment is the flow rate; if the flow is too high, water will pass through without sufficient UV exposure. If the flow is too low, heat may build up and damage the UV lamp.

A disadvantage of the technique is that water treated by chlorination is resistant to reinfection until the chlorine off-gasses, whereas UVGI water must be transported and delivered in such a way as to avoid contamination.

See also: UV applications