Otago Uni involved in PPE reuse research

University of Otago researcher Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu tests the ability of heat and UV light...
University of Otago researcher Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu tests the ability of heat and UV light to disinfect SARS-CoV-2 on PPE gear. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
As a global shortage of PPE gear starts to bite, University of Otago scientists are helping to develop a method of disinfecting PPE for potential reuse or recycling during the Covid pandemic.

A multidisciplinary team of New Zealand scientists, led by University of Auckland Paediatrics Department senior lecturer Dr Yvonne Anderson, has built and tested a prototype mobile disinfection unit in a shipping container at Port Taranaki, to disinfect N95 masks and other PPE gear.

Dr Anderson said safety of healthcare workers during the pandemic was critical to reducing community transmission of Covid-19, and required readily available PPE.

"However, it’s paramount that we also find ways to mitigate the ever-growing amount of medical waste that goes to landfills, or worse, that ends up polluting our lands, rivers, and seas, magnifying the global problem of plastic pollution."

Together, the team from the Universities of Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, Waterloo (Canada) and New Zealand’s AgResearch, tested UV light and dry heat for disinfecting clinical PPE.

The study showed UV disinfection was not reliable on the irregular surfaces of PPE, but dry heat was.

In a high-security laboratory, University of Otago researchers, led by Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu, performed the tests on the efficacy of heat and UV methods against SARS-CoV-2.

Once dry heat was identified as the best contender, other teams led by Dr Daniel Pletzer (University of Otago) and Dr Gale Brightwell (AgResearch) tested the efficacy of heat treatment against important bacteria that cause disease in humans, particularly in hospital settings.

Now, the research team is in the final stages, with University of Canterbury Associate Prof Mark Staiger and his team testing the effects of heat treatment on PPE materials, to see if it compromises the levels of protection in any way.

The next steps for the prototype disinfection unit is to transfer it to the University of Auckland Faculty of Engineering.

The aim is for unusable PPE waste to be broken down into water and largely harmless chemicals using hydrothermal processes.

The work will be conducted by University of Auckland Faculty of Engineering Associate Prof Saeid Baroutian with input from Prof Bill Anderson (University of Waterloo) and Dr Trudy Sullivan (University of Otago).




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