A Seattle-area lighting manufacturer has entered the market with a line of UV lighting products that it says can kill viruses and keep people safe — just as schools and businesses prepare to welcome students and workers in a post-pandemic world.
“We’re quoting a lot of commercial opportunities,” said Jim Mischel, CEO of Safeology.
Everett, Wash.-based Safeology spun out of Electric Mirror, which manufactures luxury lighted mirrors and medicine cabinets for the hospitality industry. 90% of the hotels in Las Vegas have installed Electric Mirrors products, said Teresa Wenta, the company’s global executive director of marketing.
The company’s website describes how in January 2020, as the first U.S. COVID cases were being diagnosed in Everett, Jim Mischel started thinking about ways to protect his newborn daughter and the community from getting sick.
About the same time, his brother, Aaron — an executive vice president of sales for the company — was traveling on business and seeing how COVID was starting to spread. When he returned to Everett, “my brother marched into my office and said ‘You gotta do this,’” Jim Mischell recalled. In March 2020, they formed Safeology as a separately branded division of Electric Mirrors.
The company’s background in the lighting business made it logical for Safeology to use UV-C lighting to fight viruses.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” Aaron Mischel said. “It’s just a lighting product.”
UV-C lighting has been used for decades to reduce the spread of various microbes, particularly in medical settings. Testing has shown that it destroys the outer protein layer of human coronaviruses, which renders them inactive.
One test found it to be more than 99% effective in specifically stopping the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Airlines already are using UV-C lighting devices to disinfect passenger cabins between flights, with Honeywell and Boeing among the manufacturers selling products into that market.
However, UV-C light also can be harmful to humans, causing severe flash sunburns and sometimes eye damage. Not all UV-C products on the market are safe, Jim Mischel said.
“There are a lot of gimmicks out there,” he said, “or products that are truly dangerous for people.”
One of Safeology’s first steps was to form a scientific advisory team, which includes Dr. George Diaz, who diagnosed and treated the first known COVID patient in the U.S. The experts helped them figure out how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to be exposed to UV-C light to be effective.
“We knew the technology,” Aaron Mischel said. “But it’s nice to have the real science behind the technology.”
Safeology has pivoted with its product offerings as more has become known about the virus.
Originally, the company offered a UV-C tower that could be used in an empty room to sterilize it. That was because it was thought the primary way the virus spread was on surfaces.
As scientific understanding advanced, and it became clear that COVID was an airborne virus, the company developed a portable air purification system that sucks room air into a chamber where it is blasted by UV-C light, then filtered through both HEPA and carbon filters before the air is returned to the room.
This not only removes COVID from the room, but any other virus, bacteria or allergen, Aaron Mischel said. It also is quiet enough to run while students or office workers are in the room.
The portable filtration system can be controlled through a smartphone app. “It’s the first project I know of anywhere where commercial mobile air purification has been combined with IoT (Internet of Things) infrastructure,” Jim Mischel said.
The company’s most recent product is an upper-room system that attaches to the ceiling and sends beams of UV-C light parallel to the floor, creating a virus-free zone above the heads of the people in the room. As air circulates in the room, the light disinfects it.
“No matter what seasonal virus comes, you could be at work while your light overhead is cleaning the air,” Aaron Mischel said.
The Mischels say they’ve had “a great initial start” with orders for their products, but are “having to really educate people” on how the technology works.
Even as more Americans get vaccinated, there seems to be demand for this kind of a product, Jim Mischel said. “People are afraid, and the vaccine’s not foolproof.”