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Experts sound alarm about UVC light devices sold online

UVC light wands
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 08:16:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Move over, Clorox. The latest COVID-19 cleaning craze appears to be UV light.

Ultraviolet-C (UVC) devices are being used to blast away germs inside restaurants, subways and schools.

According to the FDA, UVC radiation is a "known disinfectant" for air, water and nonporous surfaces, and it has been used for decades to reduce the spread of bacteria.

Grandview C-4 is the latest school district to invest in the technology.

"It's just an added layer of defense," said Director of Facilities Angela Brantley.

It's a hospital-grade system so powerful that custodial staff had to be trained to use it.

Safety experts are concerned about the people who aren't receiving similar training: online shoppers.

As the commercial market for UVC light expands, there is a proliferation of consumer devices for sale on sites such as Amazon and Walmart.com.

The FDA created a webpage to address these devices, warning there are health and safety risks depending on the UVC wavelength, dose and the duration of exposure. The agency emphasizes the risk may increase if the unit isn't installed properly or if it's used by someone who isn't trained.

Some of the risks include eye injuries and burn-like skin reactions. In addition, certain UVC lamps can generate ozone, which can damage the lungs.

The mostly third-party listings on Amazon and Walmart tout the devices' safety features and efficacy in killing germs.

Some of the devices are ozone-free and have child locks or sensors that shut down the wands if turned over during the disinfection process.

Although certain listings warned of the dangers of ultraviolet rays, others did not.

The growth of the online market prompted a group of industry experts to publish a position paper warning of the risks of UVC germicidal devices.

Underwriters Laboratories, which tests UVC products for certification, teamed up with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American Lighting Association to release the statement.

The organizations raised concerns that many of the portable consumer-oriented devices do not properly contain emissions and rely only on unreliable sensors or remote controllers which can lead to over-exposure.

"Without better safeguards and without consumers being more fully aware of risks and trained...this would place an unrealistic responsibility on the user and, consequently, such products at present cannot be certified," the statement read.

So buy at your own risk, or leave this tool to the professionals.

The 41 Action News Investigative Team reached out to both Amazon and Walmart about the UVC device listings. Neither company responded.

However, Walmart released a statement to CNET saying suppliers are required to "comply with all rules and regulations applicable to the products they sell," and if the company learns a supplier is providing non-compliant items, those are removed.

Walmart.com also has a disclaimer on listings acknowledging manufacturers and suppliers provide the information about a product, and Walmart does not verify that information.

Amazon's third-party listings also have a disclaimer that the company assumes no liability for inaccuracies or misstatements about products.

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