'Innovative germ-killing biotechnology' rolling out at select Edmonton transit stations

· The Pulse

The simple act of opening a bus station door can be anxiety-inducing during a pandemic.

As a potential solution, Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) has entered into a partnership with local startup Outbreaker Solutions Inc. to implement new antimicrobial push plates, made of compressed salt, on the doors of eight LRT stations and two transit centres in the city.

The push plates were installed at Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station as of Jan. 19, said transit spokesperson Rowan Anderson. The others will be in place "over the next month or so."

The six-month pilot program won’t cost taxpayers anything, said Craig McKeown, director of operations and maintenance of ETS.

"We're allowing Outbreaker to utilize our public spaces ... to the benefit of our riders and our public, and to the benefit of Outbreaker, as (it gets) the opportunity to trial and test and continue to use its products, to see how well this works."

McKeown added that there is an option to extend the agreement beyond six months, if the COVID-19 pandemic persists and the push plates are effective.

Matt Hodgson, co-founder of Outbreaker, said the sodium chloride surfaces can kill germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi far faster than existing antimicrobial surfaces. They could be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The salt is compressed into a "ceramic-like surface” and can be applied to any commonly touched areas.

The small yellow salt plates now outfit all the entrances to the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT station. (Supplied) The small yellow salt plates now outfit all the entrances to the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT station. (Supplied)

Outbreaker has been funding research on this technology since 2016, focused on reducing the spread of bacteria. In April 2020, the company began researching its effectiveness on viruses, such as the one that causes COVID-19, with the help of researchers at the University of Alberta (U of A). The research is ongoing and not yet conclusive, but the company believes it will work based on existing research on the virus-killing power of salt.

"There is good evidence to suggest that salt will inactivate (COVID-19) because it does that to similar viruses," Hodgson said. He added that the results of their COVID-19 research will "hopefully be coming out of the U of A over the next month or two."

The stations and transit centres selected for the pilot program were chosen based on volume of foot traffic and ability to accommodate the push plates, said Anderson in an emailed statement to Taproot Edmonton. Some stations and transit centres use automatic doors, and would not benefit from the plates.

The new technology will not have implications on the City of Edmonton's public health guidelines for transit users, McKeown said. Instead, the plates are intended as an "added layer (of safety) to the public."

“Edmonton still should continue to follow all COVID-19 safety related precautions including good hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask while in public stations.”