NYC will test ultraviolet light to kill virus on subways

Christopher Brito

New York City will be testing out ultraviolet lamps that can kill the coronavirus on subways and buses. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced that the $1 million pilot program will begin its first phase on some subways, buses and other facilities early next week.

About 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.

"As we've been saying, we're leaving no stone unturned when it comes to promoting and protecting public health," MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye said at a news conference.

UVC light — a shorter wavelength of ultraviolet light — is sometimes used to disinfect hospital operating rooms and is considered a proven and effective technique to eliminate viruses, according to the MTA. Dr. David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, was brought on to examine the concept in a laboratory setting and reported promising results, the MTA said in a news release.

"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," Brenner said. "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."

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Demonstration of UV disinfecting technology at a subway maintenance facility in New York City on May 19, 2020. Marc A. Hermann/ MTA New York City Transit

The MTA has been working with Puro since March to adapt their technology so it can be used in subways and buses.

"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."

"We continue to explore new options every day as we undertake the largest cleaning and disinfecting regimen in MTA history during the overnight closure of subway," Feinberg said.

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