To make the most impact, pick products that will clean both the air and the surfaces in a bus, experts advise. And don’t rely on just one solution; have various tools at your disposal.  -  Photo: Canva

To make the most impact, pick products that will clean both the air and the surfaces in a bus, experts advise. And don’t rely on just one solution; have various tools at your disposal.

Photo: Canva

At the height of the pandemic when school buses were operating, the need for safe, clean vehicles became more important than ever to prevent the spread of infection. But just because we’re past the worst of it doesn’t mean we can kick back on keeping spaces clean. Especially when the colder months bring increases in other diseases, proper cleaning and disinfection of school buses can help mitigate illnesses and keep communities healthier.

Because of increased demand brought on by COVID, a flood of new products came to market, many of which were not EPA registered, nor were they proven effective, according to Pamela Angell, public relations for CURIS Decontamination System.

Most of the products used in the early days of the pandemic were sprays, foggers, and ultraviolet (UV) lights.

“Those methods have good potential, but their downfall is that that they are episodic and proved to not be as effective as what was needed in the marketplace,” said Dr. Christophe Suchy, CEO/CTO of CASPR Technologies. “Today, more proactive solutions are available that allow for continuous disinfection of viruses, germs, and bacteria.”

Picking the Right Products

How do you know which products are best for your needs in this new environment? The answer, as it often is, is that it depends.

Generally speaking, confirming that products are EPA registered is a great place to start, Angell says. Beyond that, confirm the chemical and dispensing system are EPA registered to work together to better guarantee the desired outcome.

The high-touch surfaces in a school bus create an ideal scenario for potential pathogens to spread, so using a product that can target a wide range of pathogens is beneficial, Angell adds. “Spot cleaning these surfaces is vital, but also allows for human error and missed areas. The CURIS fogging system reaches every surface air touches without leaving behind sticky, harmful residues.”

Matt Horine, COO of CASPR Technologies, says that sprays and foggers can be quite effective, but often need a human to spray 24 hours a day to achieve full coverage and protection, which is impractical. He also says UV lights are effective, but the pathogens must come into close proximity to the light, which can limit coverage.

Tip! Check if a product is eligible for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, which is a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Look for products that disinfect both the air and surfaces, experts recommend. CASPR says to get products that offer continuous disinfection versus episodic cleaning so the bus is being constantly cleaned with little human interaction. In addition, consider not only the efficacy of a product based on lab testing, but also real-world use. While many household products are chemical-based, in a school bus environment, aim for solutions that are safe and natural, using the ambient air inside the bus to produce effective disinfection that is safe around children.

Which brings up the question: To use chemicals or not to use chemicals? Opinions vary on this one.

“While the demand for chemical disinfectants has rapidly increased, opposition to their use is growing, largely due to health and environmental concerns,” says Jennifer Rosen, co-founder, Freestyle Partners. “Chemical disinfectants also are not a feasible option on all surfaces such as touchscreens or fabric.”

One alternative is UV light. Waypoint Interiors says UV is the greenest solution and can effectively disable any bacteria or virus using the proper strength and exposure time. The technology of the UV light is partly attributed to the development of LED lights for this application,” Jim Ault, sales manager, explains. “They use very little power, last for years with no maintenance, and are very effective for use on a school bus.”

Ault says UV-C (the shortest wavelength of the three forms of UV) is 99% effective compared to 35% to 40% for chemical-based products, and is convenient, with the only need to turn on a switch. He says Waypoint’s system works on both surfaces and the air as every fixture has been engineered to deliver the proper dosage for the entire bus.

Filtered Far UV-C can be used in lieu of chemicals to safely inactivate any pathogen, including MRSA, E. coli, salmonella, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2, on commonly touched surfaces in seconds, at close distance, Rosen adds.

Options for Cleaning Air Indoors

  • Ventilation – Viruses and pathogens are less likely to become concentrated in a space if fresh air is circulating.
  • Filtration – Installing filters into an existing ventilation system helps trap germs/pathogens. Filtration is effective at removing matter such as pollen, dust mites, bacteria, and mold from the air, but less effective with viruses, which are too small to be trapped in filters.
  • UV-C – This method uses ultraviolet light in the spectrum from 200-280nm to inactivate viruses, pathogens, molds, and bacteria. Conventional UV-C light has been used for decades in operating rooms to sterilize. It also can be used in ventilation systems, but it is not safe for use in spaces where people can be exposed without protective gear.
  • Filtered Far UV-C – This light is at a wavelength that is human-safe and installed in overhead ceiling lights, making indoor air as clean and safe as outdoor air. Filtered Far UV-C must be filtered (with a Ushio Care222 lamp) and placed at specific distances to meet regulatory requirements.

Options for Cleaning Surfaces

  • Chemicals – These options are readily available, but are not always effective or strong enough, and can be costly, time consuming, not suitable for all surfaces, and not environmentally friendly.
  • Portable, Handheld Filtered Far UV-C for Use at Close Distance – Has the same properties of inactivating viruses, pathogens, mold, and bacteria, but does not penetrate the skin or eyes. Environmentally friendly, it does not damage surfaces like chemicals can.
  • Fogging – Has been adopted in large spaces but may only be used in unoccupied areas. 

Source: Freestyle Partners, LLC

Freestyle Partners recommends not relying on one single solution, but a multi-layered disinfection plan with an array of tools.

Disinfecting Best Practices

When disinfecting...

  • Review and follow safe handling and safety instructions that are on the label or inserts of the cleaner/chemicals being used, and do not mix chemicals unless proper documentation advises otherwise.
  • Use gloves, eye protection, and other necessary personal protection equipment to prevent direct contact with chemicals.
  • If you use towels to clean, always ensure they are clean and free of oils, dirt, debris and/or residue from other chemicals.
  • Ensure you have proper ventilation in the area you are working with chemicals per label guidelines.

Before cleaning a surface, ensure that...

  • Surfaces are wiped down to remove dirt and debris with a dry, standard paper towel or cloth, prior to disinfecting
  • See if your cleaner is Ready To Use (RTU). An RTU cleaner can be directly applied to a surface, while those that do not indicate this should be applied to a new paper towel or clean towel and not directly on the surface.
  • Never soak or saturate towels with chemicals or leave puddles of chemicals behind.
  • Always check a small, unnoticeable area before proceeding to ensure no discoloration occurs.

To avoid damage to surfaces, never use...

  • Pure bleach on vinyl, fabric, or plastics.
  • Pure hydrogen peroxide on vinyl, fabric, or plastics.
  • Diluted bleach on fabric (e.g. seat belts).
  • Ammonia-based products on plastic, vinyl, or touchscreens.

Source: Blue Bird via the CDC and Journal of Hospital Infection

Available Solutions

There are a variety of products out there to help kick the ick. A few solutions follow.

CASPR Technologies

CASPR’s system is ESSER-eligible and offers continuous disinfection of the air and surfaces.  -  Photo: CASPR Technologies

CASPR’s system is ESSER-eligible and offers continuous disinfection of the air and surfaces.

Photo: CASPR Technologies

CASPR Technologies uses a proprietary Natural Catalytic Converter (NCC) process that transforms ambient air and humidity into safe levels of gaseous hydrogen peroxide that is transmitted over a target area to clean and disinfect the air and surfaces. Unlike many disinfection methods that are episodic, CASPR’s technology offers continuous disinfection while children are present. There is no labor involved, the units require little to no maintenance, and are 99.6% effective at killing pathogens. The CASPR Transit model is ideal for school buses, measuring about 12”x12”, and the unit begins automatically disinfecting every time the bus is turned on.

CURIS Decontamination System

One benefit to the Curis fogging system is that it doesn’t leave behind sticky or harmful resides like some surface chemical cleaners.  -  Photo: CURIS Systems

One benefit to the Curis fogging system is that it doesn’t leave behind sticky or harmful resides like some surface chemical cleaners.

Photo: CURIS Systems

The CURIS System is a unique decontamination fogging product, offering an effective patented pulse delivery system featuring hydrogen peroxide: HHP (hybrid hydrogen peroxide); 7% hydrogen peroxide utilizing AHP (aerosolized hydrogen peroxide); and VHP (vaporous hydrogen peroxide) for the best of both worlds. Its EPA-registered solution kills 99.9999% of C.diff (one of the hardest spores to kill) in a tri-part soil load and is on the EPA's Lists K & N. CURIS is committed to educating its customers and providing the support they need for safe, effective decontamination and disinfection.

Freestyle Partners, LLC

New safety standards are opening the door to widespread use of filtered Far-UVC light in occupied spaces, according to Freestyle Partners.  -  Photo: Freestyle Partners, LLC

New safety standards are opening the door to widespread use of filtered Far-UVC light in occupied spaces, according to Freestyle Partners.

Photo: Freestyle Partners, LLC

Freestyle Partners, LLC has developed a portable, handheld human-safe and patented device that is defining a new category: human-safe and effective, portable, battery-operated handheld filtered Far UV-C disinfection devices. Freestyle has developed working prototypes that can safely inactivate any pathogen, including MRSA, E. coli, salmonella, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2, on commonly touched surfaces in seconds, at close distance. Freestyle Partners’ device is ideal for quickly, effectively disinfecting high-touch surfaces on buses and public transportation systems.

Waypoint Interiors LLC 

Each bus typically requires about six to seven of Waypoint’s light fixtures and one switch (located by the driver).  -  Photo: Waypoint Interiors

Each bus typically requires about six to seven of Waypoint’s light fixtures and one switch (located by the driver).

Photo: Waypoint Interiors

The Viralite dual light system from Waypoint Interiors is designed to combat viruses and germs on a variety of vehicles, including school buses. Its system is economical, paid for with the funds used for one year of chemical expense; convenient, able to turn on and off with a switch and with no labor costs; and maintenance free for at least 10 years. No viruses/bacteria cannot be disabled or killed with UV light, making it highly effective. A blue toned (405nm wavelength) light is used during all bus operations to sanitize the air and surfaces. A stronger UV-C lite (280nm wavelength) is used after hours or between trips when the bus is empty. The system uses the latest technology and was designed with Waypoint aerospace engineers and General Electric scientists.

It's also recommended to check with your bus manufacturers on what products are best suited to the sanitization process of their buses to ensure there is no unintended degradation or diminished performance.

Thomas Built Buses, for instance, recommends these products for seating surfaces and plastics that are ready to use and require no dilution with water:

  • Fantastik Antibacterial All-Purpose.
  • Formula 409 Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner.
  • Lysol Foaming Disinfectant Cleaner.
  • Virox 5 RTU.
  • Oxivir TB Wipes.

Additionally, CalAmp and Synovia Solutions’ Bus Guardian offers a suite of digital solutions, including a hygiene verification system to help administrators monitor and report on real-time sanitization efforts, while Zonar’s Electronic Verified Inspection Reporting (EVIR) has a new electronically verifiable configuration that can help school officials ensure the cleanliness and sanitization of buses.

“We believe it’s time for schools to be proactive versus reactive when it comes to disinfection, so that solutions are in place before the next wave or new pandemic comes along,” Suchy says.

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