Lab Air Care

Lab Air Care

Friday, December 1, 2017
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Keeping the building and workspace environment up to standards protects scientists and their results

The quality of the air in a laboratory impacts the scientists and the devices that they use. To keep both running as safely and effectively as possible, the right conditions must be maintained. That’s true for air throughout the building in which a lab resides and scientists work.

“In a laboratory, I think, without any doubt, temperature and humidity are the most essential; after that would be particle matter—PM2.5—and carbon dioxide, CO2,” says Amy Lee, sales manager at Autotronic Enterprise (New Taipei, Taiwan). “The particles might damage some delicate devices and CO2 might affect some result of experiments.” She adds, “These are also the most popular and major factors in evaluating indoor air quality.”

To maintain the air in a building that contains a lab, the ventilation system provides supply air and exhaust. But that’s just a start.

Don’t forget detection

It’s one thing to install an advanced ventilation system, but another to monitor the results. It doesn’t matter what a system is supposed to do; the key is that it accomplishes it and maintains the air quality as intended.

“For some huge laboratories, there might be a need for a lot of detection or monitoring of different materials,” Lee explains. That can require many detectors, which can be done in numerous ways, such as using LoRaWAN, a specification for a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN). Lee points that Autotronic Enterprise systems use a “LoRaWAN connection, which can link up to 1000-plus devices and the connecting range can reach to at least 15 floors.” She adds, “This means with one LoRaWAN gateway, you can collect 1000-plus data sources to the cloud for later usage.” Then, settings can be adjusted, she says, to “control each laboratory to maintain it in the required environment.”

Instead of relying just on a building’s overall system, most labs maintain their own exhaust equipment as well. To get it all working together, a complete building and labs plan must be designed, implemented, and maintained.

Keep up the pressure

Ventilation in labs is crucial to prevent exposure to the scientists—as well as people outside a lab. “As long as a laboratory is equipped with a differential pressure device, the air quality can remain what is under monitoring or control,” Lee notes.

The pressure in a lab depends on devices and personnel. The point of pressurizing a lab is to prevent the escape of contaminants. So, a lab should be at a negative pressure compared to building hallways. To make that system work as designed, scientists need to keep lab doors closed. Maybe it’s just the old days of my lab work, but that was far from the standard operating procedure. Rather than base it only on my dinosaur lab days, I’ve seen plenty of open lab doors in recent tours of facilities. So, close those doors.

Unexpected consequences

Sometimes, unanticipated sources can impact a lab’s air quality. If there is a copier in a lab, Lee points out, “the printing might produce ozone, volatile organic compounds, and particles that might change the air quality of a laboratory.”

Anything in lab air can also go into many instruments. If a mass spectrometer uses ambient air, that’s one device that could churn out foul results if the air is not up to standards.

For a deeper dive, the University of Vermont provides a useful overview.1 To go even deeper, contact a lab safety expert at your university or company. It takes teamwork and technology to keep the air up to par, the results coming out as intended and keeping scientists safe.