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UVC germicidal lamps for personal sterilisation

Germicidal lamps used on the body exposes you to harmful ultraviolet radiation which may cause injury and increase your risk of skin cancer and permanent eye damage.

Small portable devices that emit ultraviolet radiation (UVR) for the purpose of sterilising hands and other items such as mobile phones, credit cards and shopping bags have come to the attention of health agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and ARPANSA. These devices which emit UVR for sterilisation of bacteria and viruses are available for sale as handheld units or desk-light size lamps designed to be set up in personal spaces.

Sources of UVR have been used for decades to provide effective biological sterilisation against bacteria and viruses in industrial, commercial, medical and research applications. For example, UVC radiation is used for disinfection in water, air and surface treatment, in the food processing industry and in air conditioning. Specifically, these applications have taken advantage of the germicidal properties of the UVC part of the spectrum and have been used successfully to sterilise hard surfaces in hospitals. In these settings, UVC can be used at intensities high enough to be effective for sterilisation purposes. However, at high intensities, exposure has to be very carefully controlled to avoid harm to people and to ensure the integrity of certain materials which can readily undergo photo-degradation, affecting their reliability (e.g. certain plastics, latex and rubber).

What is the hazard?

Exposures to high levels of UVR are associated with both short and long term health risks. More specifically UVR may cause adverse health effects to the eye and skin, particularly in photosensitive people. This risk is higher in parts of the UVC region of the spectrum where exposure is more damaging compared to UVA or UVB. Short term health effects include erythema (skin reddening) of the skin and severe eye irritation (Welder’s flash) or burns that can last for several days and may require hospitalisation. In the long term, these exposures may significantly increase your risk of developing skin cancer and visual impairment from eye diseases like cataracts.

What should you do?

The use of small Germicidal UVC lamps presents risks to a person’s health which cannot be balanced against any potential benefit of using them for personal safety against infection. Consequently, ARPANSA advises that the use of these devices results in radiation exposure that may have both short and long term adverse health implications.

  • Follow the advice of health authorities for effective ways to practice personal hygiene and disease prevention.
  • Don’t use UVC lamps on any part of your body, especially around your face where you may expose your eyes.
  • Don’t set up desktop UVC units and leave them unattended where they may be left on for long periods of time, increasing potential exposure.