Years of research at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have produced an airborne substance that can eradicate harmful microorganisms, including COVID-19.
A dry fog that kills airborne viruses might sound like a sci-fi movie invention, but a product developed and patented by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has made the idea possible.
The product, which has been a work in progress for decades, is called Paerosol and has been commercialized by a South Carolina company of the same name. Originally, Paerosol was made to remediate mold, but laboratory tests show the product is also effective against bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19, said Paerosol President Scott Alderson.
“We’ll fog eggs in a hatchery, and the mortality rates will drop significantly,” Alderson said. “We’ll kill viruses in the nursery of a hog room. We’ve shown that we can kill mold on plants.”
Paerosol is neither a poison nor a chemical. It begins as a salt-water solution. An electric current is run through the mixture, creating an oxidant. From there, the fluid transforms into a fog with a machine called a micro aerosol generator, Alderson said.
Once the fog is released from micro aerosol generators, it stays in the air for 72 hours. Visiting every corner and cranny of an area, the neutrally charged substance hunts for both positively and negatively charged microorganisms. The main ingredient of the solution is hypochlorous acid — not to be confused with hydrochloric acid — which is produced by the human immune system.
Alderson said Paerosol merely disables pathogens.
“It’s like me removing the car keys from a vehicle,” he explained. “We’re not blowing up the pathogen and disintegrating it. We’re disabling it. That’s important because if we were to blow it up, we would be creating tiny little fragments. Science doesn’t know what would be in those fragments.”
Extensive tests have shown that mice can safely breathe the fog. The company is confident the fog can’t hurt humans, but at this time, it recommends wearing a mask when the fog is initially released, Alderson said.
The solution works quickly. Robert Amick, executive director of the Florida State Firefighters Association, has seen how the fog “just walks through” mold. “A four-week mold remediation job becomes a two-day deal,” Amick shared.
“I can do a 40,000-square-foot building that’s four stories high,” Amick continued, “and we can be in and out of there in six hours with a four-man crew. It’s so simple, so easy to be deployed. There’s no clean-up afterward.”
Amick noted that Paerosol’s effectiveness is a boon for firefighters, who are at risk of catching bacteria like MRSA and C. difficile. Now with the COVID-19 virus to worry about, the fire safety community needs extra assurance when it comes to lowering the probability of infection.
“It’s just striking terror through us,” Amick said. “You’re going to have guys getting this stuff [COVID-19] and they don’t know it, and they’re going to be passing it off to their children and their older family members. There’s a case here in Florida where a five-year-old died, and his father is a firefighter.”
Alderson and Amick cited various other use cases for Paerosol, including nursing homes, hospitals, ambulances and restaurants, to name a few. Alderson mentioned a six-month study that was performed at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state and funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a unit of the U.S. Department of Defense. The study showed that Paerosol eliminated the most common hospital pathogens, such as staph, without corroding any of the sensitive equipment in the surgical suite of the facility.
“We’ve set it off in radio comm rooms, and it hasn’t bothered them one bit,” Amick said. “There’s absolutely no moisture that goes into the air with it.”
Alderson said the company is currently working on a medical-grade device that has a planned release late this year. As the company performs more demos at hospitals, it will gather feedback for future versions of the product.
The company is also waiting for the product to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. The company now relies on a service model, as it cannot ship the product to customers without EPA approval.
“It’s critical that we get EPA approval,” Alderson said. “I could be sending fluid right now to New York City, and they could be fogging their whole subway system [with EPA approval].”
Amick, who has strived to help inform government stakeholders about the product, believes the fog solution will have a dramatic impact on more than public safety. “It’s going to change everything,” Amick remarked. “It’s going to change everything for the good in an unbelievable way.”