A group of special education students may be able to breathe easier while riding the bus this year.
Over the summer, Hall County Schools retrofitted an air filtration system on one of its special education buses. The unit is equipped with an ultraviolet C light that is meant to deactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
“I have certain kids that have breathing issues,” said Elaine Kilby, who drives the bus with the unit.
Clay Hobbs, director of transportation for Hall County Schools, called it a “trial run,” saying there are no plans yet to outfit the rest of the bus fleet.
The unit was installed on a special education bus because those buses have air conditioning and tend to keep the windows rolled up, he said. He said it doesn’t make much sense at this point to install this kind of filter on regular buses, because the windows are often kept open.
But is UV light actually effective at destroying the coronavirus? Experts say yes.
“In general UV light will inactivate viruses,” said Melinda Brindley, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Georgia. “Because I don't know the particular brand or voltage and whatnot of those particular lights, I wouldn't want to say anything specific, but UV light will inactivate viruses, absolutely.”
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine marks as true the claim that “UV light destroys the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
“Specifically, UVC light has been shown to quickly inactivate the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2,” the academy’s website says.
The unit is called the Soluva Air V, and it is manufactured by a German company called Heraeus, whose Buford, Georgia, location supplied the system. The company says the system kills at least 99% of viruses.
The system is extremely quiet, and it runs the moment Kilby cranks up the bus.
“I don’t have to push nothing, control nothing or anything,” she said.
“It sucks in the air and runs it through two different UV light bulbs, which basically kills contaminants, germs, bacteria, any kind of particles in the air that are bad,” said Jeff Williams, business development manager for Conditioned Air Systems, which served as the vendor in acquiring the unit from Heraeus.
Williams said the system is designed for flat-top metro buses and had to be retrofitted to the curved roof of the school bus.
“I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” he said.
The system was installed by Street Toys, a Gainesville company that specializes in aftermarket car modifications.
Williams estimated it would cost about $4,000 per bus — but it didn’t cost the school system anything.
“We donated the unit, the labor, installation,” Williams said. “And we did it all to kind of try this one out and see how it goes and see if we can take it somewhere from here.”
The project is an extension of Hall’s effort to clean up the air in its schools. The school system has purchased about 175 air purifiers with similar UV technology at a cost of about $350,000, paid for by federal coronavirus relief money.