Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right Watch a subway car get blasted with UVC light to get disinfected
UVC light on the subway
Photograph: Courtesy Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Watch a subway car get blasted with UVC light to get disinfected

The light flashes to kill germs like something out of "Men In Black."

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The MTA is using state-of-the-art technology to sanitize the city's subway systems and buses and it's straight out of a sci-fi movie.

All it takes is a flash of Ultraviolet-C light and the virus is eliminated, officials say.

Once the UVC emitter is set up on a subway pole, the flash goes off several times, immediately killing the germs on surfaces and in the air. It is immediate, however, so if someone transmits the virus to the subway car after the light treatment, it will remain there.

The MTA is sending out about 150 of these UVC emitter devices to test and evaluate their efficiency and cost-effectiveness on NYC trains, buses, stations and facilities as part of the new pilot program. They'll be setting the light off while staff disinfect the system overnight from 1am to 5am on R188, R62, R46, R68, and R160 cars, stations and yards at Corona, Coney Island, Jamaica and Pelham. If all goes well, the lights will be used on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North as well, officials say.

But how exactly does it work? 

The energy of UVC actually destroys the genetic material inside viruses and other microbes, according to nationalacademies.org.

And according to Columbia University, germicidal UV light has been used to kill viruses and bacteria for decades although it is dangerous to human cells. When using UV, people need to keep away while the light goes off. UVC light, however, can't harm us. But it can still penetrate and kill very small viruses and bacteria floating in the air or on surfaces.

"Our system is a low-cost, safe solution to eradicating airborne viruses minutes after they've been breathed, coughed or sneezed into the air," Dr. David Brenner, the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, said in the Columbia University report. "Not only does it have the potential to prevent the global spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, but also future novel viruses, as well as more familiar viruses like influenza and measles."

"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," Dr. David Brenner said in a statement provided by the MTA. "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."

The light stunned reporters on Tuesday when it was revealed. They took to social media to display the awe-inspiring and slightly frightening flashes of light.

The pilot is just the newest way the MTA is cleaning its subway cars. It started with overnight cleaning on May 6 and also launched a "Temperature Brigade" on March 24, to take employee temperatures at work locations. It also implemented rear-door boarding on buses and eliminated cash transactions at stations and on commuter rails to prevent person-to-person contact to ensure the safety of operating employees.

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