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Germ-fighting ‘dry fog’ system used in prisons could also be used in schools and airports

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A new disinfecting system that promises to kill everything from mold to the new coronavirus for at least 90 days is being applied in state prisons and has the potential for use in schools, airports and other buildings to help open Hawaii’s economy, state prison officials say.

“We’re here to help use our resources to reopen the state of Hawaii with our inmate labor,” said Jonah Ka‘auwai, division administrator for the state Department of Public Safety’s nonprofit Hawaii Correctional Industries. “Sanitation is one part of having a safe return. Them (inmates) sitting around doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Soon after the corona­virus pandemic began shutting down the global economy, Ka‘auwai saw a local news report about Hawai‘i Unified (Hui Restoration) disinfecting his friend’s church, Inspire Church, in Waikele.

The Department of Public Safety has since entered into a 12-month memorandum of understanding with Hawai‘i Unified — with no specified dollar amount — to provide equipment, chemicals and training for Hawaii prisoners to “dry fog” some of the most well-used areas of the state’s eight prisons.

Parts of Halawa Correctional Facility, Oahu Community Correctional Center and Maui Community Correctional Center — including holding cells but not yet prisoners’ cells — already have been treated in the two-step, two-hour-long process.

High-traffic areas of Hawaii Community Correctional Center and Kulani Correctional Facility on Hawaii island are scheduled for dry-fog treatment on Thursday, followed by parts of the remaining state prisons by the end of the month.

COVID-19 has not been detected inside the state’s prison system, DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said. The department continues to urge proper hygiene and the use of face masks among both inmates and staff, Schwartz said.

The dry-fog process is designed to kill all manner of germs, including the new coronavirus, and keep mold and other unwanted bacteria, viruses and germs out of prison air-conditioning systems.

Hawai‘i Unified holds the proprietary rights for a patented dry-fog sanitation system that creates an anti­- microbial barrier that kills pathogens, including COVID-19, for up to 90 days, according to DPS. The treatment has been approved by both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, according to the department.

“There is nothing in comparison,” Ka‘auwai said. “We call it the ‘medicine.’ We feel very comfortable making the claim that we are sterilizing the areas. … The most common comment is that it smells like a hospital — it’s so fresh.”

In a statement, Ryno Irwin, CEO of Hawai‘i Unified Industries, said, “The fog application settles on surfaces, and it’s like a microscopic bed of spikes. If any cells, viruses, mold or bacteria lands on those surfaces, it will pop the cell, killing it on contact. This is an approved process, is completely nontoxic and is safe for people and animals.”

Ka‘auwai said he hopes that some state prisoners nearing release can be trained in using the dry-fog technology and be certified by the National Institute of Dry Fog Technology. Along the way, they would acquire other skills such as mold inspection and removal, water damage repair and microbial restoration, he said.

Schwartz emphasized that any wages earned by prisoners while they’re applying the dry-fog technology would go toward victim restoration and court costs.

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