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Tunnel effect

John V Joseph, Director of Sales, Blue Rhine Industries, speaks to Surendar Balakrishnan on the effectiveness of disinfection chambers and tunnels and, more important, on possible safety concerns arising out of the dosage agents coming in contact with individual passing through them. Excerpts…

| | Jun 23, 2020 | 4:52 pm
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John V Joseph

We would like to get more of an idea on disinfection chambers and tunnels, and the traction in the market. Could you please describe?

What we are doing is quite straightforward; basically, we are manufacturing sanitising tunnels to sanitise individuals, as they pass through. We were one of the first to develop the product in UAE, and that was about three months ago.

We started development of the product after I saw it being used by Dubai Municipality. They had one at Naif area during the disinfection process. They closed off that road and did the disinfection drive and had one these tunnels installed; and we got inspiration from that.

We realised many businesses would require these tunnels to reduce the spread of the virus. To begin with, we had got in touch with a lot of manufacturers, locally and abroad, and the prices were exorbitant. It is a quite simple process, but obviously, people want to take advantage.

We decided to start manufacturing the tunnels, as we have over 500 skilled workers capable of such fabrication. As soon as we started, I posted images online and got a lot of interest; and since then, we have installed several of these tunnels in Dubai.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has come out with an advisory stating that the disinfectants being used could be of a questionable quality from a health and safety point of view. What you are doing to ensure safety? Are there any possible side-effects that could manifest, later on? What have you learnt through conducting tests?

We are not approved to do these tests or even decide which chemicals can be used. Dubai Municipality has a department that is responsible for permit for disinfecting, whether it is [for application on] surfaces or individuals. They have a very stringent process from what I have understood and approve manufacturers based on application.

We, as a manufacturer of hardware, have been instructed by Dubai Municipality to use only what has been approved by them. To get ourselves approved as a manufacturer, we have to provide full documentation of what we are using, and they check if it is safe, and they say if it is safe, because some [disinfectants] are not safe. Ours is a chlorine-based disinfectant, which has been approved for use along with our tunnel.

In the early stages of the virus, WHO came out with conflicting statements on the need to wear masks, so in my opinion, this is also not confirmed to be a fact yet. From a health and safety perspective, authorities are worried people will have a false sense of feeling that they are completely sanitised and won’t take any [further] precautionary measures, which I also agree with. What we are clear about is that this is only an addition to all the precautionary measures.

Everyone’s fear is that individuals will assume that they can avoid all other measures if they walk through the tunnel. It is about educating the user before having it implemented. The biggest challenge for us and the authorities is educating users that this is only an additional precautionary measure, not a one-time full wash.


What is the effective dosage time? We are hearing of reports that say you need closer to a minute, or in excess of a minute, for the disinfection to be effective. What are your thoughts on that?

The dosage time is relative to the agent being used and also relative to dosage dispersed each second; all of these are related to the manufacturer. Five seconds in my tunnel versus 15 seconds in another tunnel could be the same – you could be spraying more, but it is less concentrated, so it is all concentration versus time. We are following the instructions of the manufacturer of the agent. They give instructions on how to mix it and dilute it.


So, in the case of your equipment and the dosing agent you use, are you saying a five-second dosage time is adequate to provide comprehensive disinfection?

It is about how you position the nozzle pressure on the pump. Based on that, we have noticed that you are almost covered top to bottom in five seconds.


What is the pressure you use?

We use an 80-bar pump.


What kind of applications can your tunnels be used for? Are they safe and effective to homogenously use across all applications? Would installing the solution in a hospital environment require any additional features?

We can add accessories – cameras, thermal imaging and alarm systems. The actual purpose of the tunnel is to spray the individuals, so they are disinfected. It is really depending on applications; we have malls who want to make it more premium to suit their built-environment, and some that don’t insist – for instance, a labour company. In the case of export clients – and we have a lot of interest from Africa – they need something that is easily dismountable. They want to load as many units in a container as possible, and so, each unit doesn’t have to be as big. And for that, we have another model, which is smaller – it is a one-metre-wide option.


So, is that for a more price-sensitive client?

Correct! But, it has the same effect. Some people also want it with wheels. They have one entrance and would want to move it to the exit at night-time.


How long does it take to install a unit?

It takes three hours to install. We have a 100-member installing team, which we split. We are doing about 10 units a day of installation.


Typically, where do you see greater use of the tunnels? In healthcare facilities, malls or supermarkets?

Most of ours have been installed in office entrances. We did one for a gym, which is planning to open. So, that sector is showing interest. We have done a lot of staff accommodations and factories. I earlier mentioned Dubai Municipality – they are keen on safety, to make sure people are following the right procedures, and I appreciate that. My biggest worry is people taking advantage of the situation and demanding to cut corners to profit in the short run. We had a call with Dubai Municipality, and they told us they are doing strong inspections, which is good and especially important in my point of view. Most have this worry if it is safe, and they hesitate to walk through it. And so, I am glad to see how seriously Dubai Municipality is taking this matter.


Speaking of which, the Health & Safety Department of Dubai Municipality on May 27 released External Circular 53, “Concerning Disinfection Systems and Equipment  for Individuals Disinfection”. It provides health and safety guidelines that all equipment operators and suppliers must comply with, and places the burden of safety on the manufacturer. What are your thoughts on this?

Based on the circular, our main concern as manufacturer is that we are also responsible for the disinfectant being used in the tunnel, and this, in my opinion, is something we cannot control, although the responsibility is on us. It is very difficult to ensure the end-user will use the disinfectant we are recommending, and that could be for the reason of cost. And if the end-user makes use of an alternative disinfectant that we are not aware of, it is something for Dubai Municipality to consider if we have to take the blame for it. So, to safeguard ourselves, we are issuing a handover certificate that clearly states the disinfectant to be used, but again, it still does not guarantee that the end-user will follow the recommendation from our end. The Municipality made it clear that the responsibility is ours, and that is something we would like them to consider. I believe if the responsibility is on the end-user, they will not go against our recommendation on the disinfectant.

The point is, the tunnel itself is quite affordable, but the cost of the disinfectant is quite high. The cost of our tunnel is AED 8,000, but the disinfectant could cost equally as much, depending on the number of people walking through the tunnel in a month, so the running cost is an issue. At the same time, there are tunnel manufacturers who over-price their equipment. More than 50% of the manufacturers – be they of tunnels or the dosing agents – are trying to make money out of the situation.


Editor’s Note:

Dubai Municipality will be discussing External Circular 53 during a Webinar, titled ‘Disinfection chambers and tunnels’, organised by CPI Industry. The Webinar is on June 15, 2020. For more details, visit www.cpiwebinars.com

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