May 25, 2020 Lights Out: How To Replace And Dispose Of Your UV Lamps
Proper Lamp Disposal
Light in the Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) germicidal wavelength is an excellent means to improve a building’s energy efficiency and indoor air quality (IAQ) while also reducing maintenance. UV-C lamps installed either inside an HVAC system or on the wall in a room’s upper air region are used in various applications—from hospitals to offices to airports—to control infections, raise heat transfer efficiency levels, or improve occupant comfort.
But, like anything else, UV-C lamps will need to be replaced, typically annually or after roughly 9,000 hours of operation. This creates a question not only of replacement but also of proper disposal. Many municipalities will not allow you to throw a UV-C lamp in the same trashcan as last night’s Chinese food.
Before we get there, let’s explain why UV-C lamps are different from other household items regarding disposal safety.
How UV-C works
UV-C lamps have similar shapes, and operate using near identical electromagnetic processes, as the fluorescent lighting that is likely above you right now. An electric current in the gas excites mercury vapor which produces short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor coating on the inside of the lamp to glow.
Unlike fluorescent lamps, however, UV-C lamps use a highly engineered, transparent glass envelope to allow the short wave ultraviolet energy at 253.7 nm wavelength to pass unfiltered (fluorescent lamps use “ordinary glass” that is coated with phosphors on its interior surface to block the 253.7 nm wavelength).
The environmental danger here is the mercury. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can harm biological organisms if released. You are perfectly safe when the lamp is operating in your building and even when handling it. The concern is that the mercury could leak out of a broken lamp after being tossed into the trash. Therefore the EPA has classified the metal as hazardous waste. Television sets create a similar concern of chemicals being released, which is why you cannot simply toss an old TV and its cathode ray tube in the trash.
Learn more about how UV lamps operate.
Proper Disposal of UV-C Lamps
Disposing of UV-C lamps follow the same disposal procedures as fluorescent lamps.
Note that some UV-C lamps have protective FEP encapsulation sleeves. UV Resources offers EncapsuLamp™ technology that hermetically seals and protects UV-C lamps in case of breakage. Similar to protective coatings for fluorescent lighting used in warehouses and food processing facilities (e.g., Shat-R-Shield™), UV-C EncapsuLamp FEP coating must be removed prior to disposal.
Most healthcare and commercial buildings have recycling programs in place for the fluorescent lamps they use. To find your state’s fluorescent lamp disposal rules, the Association of Lamp and Mercury Recyclers, offers a state-by-state description. To find a licensed lamp recycler in your area, check here or your state environmental agency.
Another option is to contact your commercial disposal service, as waste removal procedures vary by municipal code. They will either tell you how to recycle the lamps or instruct you on where to dispose of them.
Proper Disposal of UV-C Ballasts?
UV-C electronic ballasts are very similar to conventional fluorescent ballasts and disposal procedures are the same. For more information, visit the Forest Service Engineering Department at the USDA.
How Often Should I Replace UV-C Lamps?
You might be wondering how often you should go through the above procedure. As mentioned, UV-C lamps will begin to degrade in performance after roughly one year. Quality lamps will still emit at least 80 percent of their original UV-C germicidal output rating at the end of that period, but it will be a matter of time before they, too, lose effectiveness.
Don’t jeopardize your HVACR system performance or your building’s indoor environmental quality by failing to change out your lamps. As lamps degrade or burn out, they won’t be able to prevent harmful microorganisms from collecting in the HVACR system or upper air space.
Establish an annual replacement schedule whereby all lamps are methodically swapped out at a designated interval. Such a strategy eliminates the need to carry a large inventory of replacement lamps (with the exception of a few spares in case of breakage), offering plenty of lead time and a more logical routine or schedule.
Annual replacement is also more cost-effective. Individual replacement means higher lamp and labor costs and downtime during each procedure—not to mention frequent monitoring by staff members. An annual schedule consolidates change-outs into one service interval, allowing the facility to purchase lamps in larger quantities to save money and time. This also reduces the need, with the exception of critical environments, to invest in an expensive radiometer or other equipment to monitor individual UV-C output, fixture by fixture. Knowing that lamp replacement will simply be “taken care of” each year will give you peace of mind.
Remember, too, that by replacing all of your lamps at once, you can oversee a single lamp disposal process, saving you time and hassle.