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Local inn takes innovative approach to combat Covid

Birch Ridge Inn adopts biodefense technology

By Polly Mikula

Bill Vines and Mary Furlong, owners of the Birch Ridge Inn in Killington, have added an innovative health and safety measure to their restaurant and Great Room to help combat Covid-19 infection.

“I’m scientifically trained, I’m a geek, and I’ve been studying this since we closed in March,” said Vines who worked in managerial positions in engineering and marketing for both Raytheon and Motorola prior to moving full time to Killington in 1997. “I just couldn’t believe that blowing wind across the room was the best solution,” he said, referring to common air filtration systems that could inadvertently infect others by blowing contaminants around a room.

“I asked myself: what does the defense industry do?” Vines said of his decision making process. After much research, Vines chose a biodefense company called Synexis LLC, which works to reduce microbes in occupied spaces.

Synexis uses patented dry hydrogen peroxide (DHP) technology to reduce certain bacteria, viruses and mold in the air and on surfaces in indoor spaces where people congregate.

Three Synexis Sphere units have now been installed in the Birch Ridge Inn’s restaurant and Great Room. Each unit is 18.7” by 7.7” and covers about 1,000 square feet. Each retails for “a couple thousand” and the company sends owners a regular delivery of key replacement parts and filters every quarter, Vines explained.

When combined with standard cleaning practices, social distancing and face masks worn by inn staff and guests, the new Synexis Sphere systems helps to reduce the probability of contamination by biological agents that could be introduced to the inn by other guests — Covid 19 as well as the flu — Vines stated.

“What led me to the technology was that it has been proven effective against coronavirus and influenza while continuously operating in occupied spaces,” said Vines.

This is in contrast to deploying ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill unwanted microorganisms, which the inn uses in its 10 guest rooms, but only when unoccupied, as uvc is very dangerous to people, pets and plants.

“Because of the danger of exposure, ultraviolet light was not a good solution for the Inn’s Great Room or restaurant,” Vines said.

“Inn staff is present in the restaurant up to 18 hours of the day during certain periods of the year to prepare the product to be served to guests… Public spaces of the inn are effectively occupied 24 hours of the day as guests check-in, check-out, and come and go from various activities taking place in and around Killington,” Vines noted in a paper he documented for himself when reviewing all available technology. Therefore, “occupied spaces require a treatment regimen which functions in the physical presence of people,” he wrote.

Vines considered four main options before choosing Synexis:

UV-Light

Air cleaning using HEPA filters

Ionic generators (either stand alone or combined with HEPA filters)

Dry Hydrogen Peroxide (DHP) inoculation

Vines settled on the DHP solution because it works continuously in occupied spaces, has been scientifically proven to be effective and safe, and doesn’t require guests to change their behavior.

“While it is virtually impossible to guarantee that people will not catch the disease, we believe we have adopted a strategy which will greatly lower the probability of people becoming ill with Covid while visiting the inn,” Vines said. “We expect to have to deal with Covid for another year and a half to two years, but even if Covid goes away tomorrow, we’ll continue to use this technology. It provides a healthier living environment to our guests, our staff and to Mary and me— we live here, too!”

How it works

Synexis technology takes what is naturally in the environment, ambient oxygen and humidity, to generate a low level of dry gaseous hydrogen peroxide, which is uniformly distributed through the air.

“If virus particles are in the air, they will be met with hydrogen peroxide particles, which oxidize and neutralize the contaminants,” Vines explained.

“The effects of hydrogen peroxide on viruses and other micro-organisms is well known,” Vines noted in his paper reviewing the technology. “Viruses in the environment require water to survive. With a chemical structure similar to water, hydrogen peroxide molecules attach to virus particles and other micro-organisms that are airborne, or on surfaces, to naturally break them down.”

Synexis delivers dry hydrogen peroxide safely to occupied spaces in concentrations of 5 to 25 parts per billion (ppb). By comparison, normal concentrations in human lungs for hydrogen peroxide molecules range up to 60,000 ppb, according to Synexis’s Material Safety Data Sheet.

The technology can be integrated into the HVAC duct system or applied as a stand-alone to individual rooms or spaces (as done at the Birch Ridge Inn) to reduce pathogens in the air and on surfaces.

From biodefense to commercial use

“It’s just a science project until it moves from ‘science fair’ to a commercially viable application,” said Vines.

The technology was invented and patented by James Lee, who worked on chemical, radiological and biological defense when he was a major in the U.S. Army.

The technology was first commercialized for the private sector after 9/11 to help protect corporations from biological attack by, specifically at that time, anthrax. Since then, the technology has been proved to reduce the propagation of viruses, bacteria, molds and fungi, odors, and certain insects, according to Synexis’s digital brochure.

“As far as I know, we are the first business in Vermont to adopt the technology,” Vines said. “But the technology is starting to be adopted commercially by a number of companies, municipalities and schools.”

Earlier this month, the town of Vail, Colorado, became the first municipality in the nation to comprehensively install a state-of-the-art microbial reduction system in occupied spaces throughout its public facilities and buses, according to the town. The devices have been added to air-handling systems in all the town-owned buildings including: Vail Public Library, Dobson Ice Arena, Vail Golf & Nordic Clubhouse, Vail Village and Lionshead Welcome Centers, the two transit centers, Colorado Snowsports Museum, Donovan Pavilion, Vail Municipal Complex, plus the three fire stations, public works buildings and other facilities. In addition, the town’s entire bus fleet, totaling 33 vehicles, has been equipped with the system. The $188,000 investment is expected to greatly reduce the overall microbial load in Vail’s public buildings, according to Vail Town Manager Scott Robson.

Synexis technology was also installed at Vail Mountain School in order to ensure the safety and continuance of in-person instruction.

Others who have recently adopted the Synexis systems include: Trane Technologies, which is making them available to K-12 customers; Pinewood Studios in Atlanta; the University of Oklahoma; and Kansas State.

Synexis Systems are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments as antimicrobial devices. Synexis is the sole developer of hydrogen peroxide gas and dry hydrogen peroxide technology for occupied spaces. The company is headquartered in Lenexa, Kansas.

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