Employees of chemical labs can easily be exposed to a number of different dangerous air pollutants and compounds. Hazardous waste products at chemical labs include things that can ignite, corrode, react violently with other compounds, or generally be toxic to the human body. Toxic chemical wastes often give off dangerous particles of air pollution that can easily damage a person’s lungs, kidneys, or nervous system.
While proper safety protocols and equipment should be used to limit the dispersal or emission of any toxic particles into the air, accidents may still occur, so high quality commercial air filters are necessary for chemical laboratories. Commercial air filters and industrial air filtration units will help protect the health of workers in chemical labs by limiting their exposure to toxic chemical wastes.
Why Commercial Air Filtration Systems Are So Important for Chemical Labs
Chemical laboratories, by virtue of their usage of chemical compounds, are homes to dangerous and potentially deadly hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste typically falls under one of four categories: ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and toxic. Ignitable hazardous wastes can burst into flame, corrosive hazardous wastes are chemicals like acid that can corrode the structure of other molecules, reactive wastes are wastes that can violently react with other compounds (often exploding) and toxic wastes are those that pose some danger to the human body upon entering it, typically by inhalation. Commercial air filters can neutralize many toxic wastes by trapping the dangerous particles within them, helping to ensure the safety of employees at a chemical facility.
“Toxic materials found at chemical plants include a variety of volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, silver, barium, mercury, benzenes, and formaldehyde,” warned Camfil’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “Though source control methods and safety procedures should be followed at all times to minimize unnecessary emissions of these toxic compounds, these dangerous particles may nonetheless find themselves into the air of the chemical lab.” (1)
Toxic hazardous wastes and chemical labs can come from a number of different sources. Direct emission from vats or storage containers of leaking chemicals can emit the chemicals into the air. Chemical labs can also be filled with toxic wastes through the combination of different, individually benign chemicals. The use of ordinary objects like chemical cleaners and building supplies can also release toxic chemicals if used or installed improperly.
Commercial HVAC Air Filters Can Trap Highly Dangerous Chemical Compounds
Exposure to the variety of chemicals that are found within chemical labs can cause a number of different health issues. Commercial HVAC air filters can help protect workers at chemical labs from things like lung damage, damage to the nervous system, and an increased risk of developing cancer.
Arsenic is a compound often used as a wood preservative and to develop metals for use in devices like car batteries. Arsenic can be extremely toxic and exposure to it can lead to vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, encephalopathy, abdominal pain and heart disease. People exposed to heavy metals like cadmium, silver, barium, lead and mercury can have damage done to their entire body. Acute exposure to metals like cadmium, silver and barium can lead to the development of muscle pains, fever, chills, and lung damage. In many instances, symptoms do not appear for years, often too late to reverse.
“Chronic exposure to these elements can cause lung disease, bone disease, and kidney disease. Lead and mercury are extremely dangerous to the human body, and there is no known safe level of exposure to either of these pollutants,” explained Seyffer. “Lead can damage the kidneys, reproductive system, and nervous system. Mercury exposure can lead to muscle weakness, loss of vision and hearing, paralysis, and seizures.” (2)
Benzenes are used to make some kinds of pesticides, detergents, rubbers and lubricants. Benzenes can damage the nervous system and immune system and they are also known carcinogens. Formaldehyde is often part of building materials like insulation, as well as some fertilizers and pesticides. Formaldehyde can irritate the nose, throat, and skin. High levels of formaldehyde can also cause cancer.
Industrial Air Filtration and Ventilation Protects Workers in Chemical Labs
Because of the great amount of harm that exposure to toxic chemicals can create, toxic substances should be controlled through the use of commercial air filters and proper ventilation. Industrial air filtration and ventilation will reduce the level of dangerous chemicals in the air by either trapping the chemical particles in commercial air filters, or by reducing their concentration through exchanging indoor air with outside air.
Commercial air filters reduce the amount of dangerous particles in the air by trapping them within the fiber of the filters. Studies have shown that when commercial air filters are properly used within commercial HVAC systems or used as part of a standalone air purifier, they can significantly reduce levels of toxic chemicals and dangerous particles in the air.
Ventilation systems refresh the air within a building by exchanging the air inside with outside air. The air pulled into the building from outside is then passed through the filter, and this removes dangerous particles of ambient air pollution such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. This ensures that the air entering into the building is clean.
Using Industrial HEPA Air Filters and Gas Phase Filters
The filters that are the most effective at removing particles of toxic chemicals from the air are industrial HEPA air filters and gas phase filters. HEPA filters, AKA High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, are capable of absorbing tiny particles of either liquid or solid air pollutants.
HEPA filters are capable of capturing up to 99.97of all particles of particulate matter down to 0.3 µm in size. The HEPA filters have extremely tight fiber weaves that trap the pollution particles while still allowing the air to circulate through the building. Be aware, however, that the tighter the weave of a filter, the more difficult it is on the HVAC system to move air through the filter. This can increase energy costs. There is a wide operation cost variance between different styles of HEPA filters. Configurations that allow more media area can save vast amounts of fan energy.
“Gas phase filters are air filters engineered to trap odors and gases released by chemical or physical processes,” Camfil USA commercial air filter’s Seyffer added. “Gas phase air filters use material known as sorbent to absorb different kinds of gaseous pollutants. Sorbents are various kinds of substances, like activated carbon, that attract and trap gaseous particles. Gas phase filters can trap volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde.” (3)
Combining Industrial Air Filtration Units with Source Control Strategies
While industrial air filtration units, including HEPA filters and gas phase filters, can be helpful in keeping levels of indoor air pollutants at chemical facilities low, they aren’t enough to guarantee the safety of lab workers by themselves. Pollution prevention strategies should be implemented to reduce emissions of potentially hazardous toxic compounds in the first place.
Substituting toxic materials or hazardous compounds with less dangerous compounds is an excellent way of reducing emissions of toxic chemicals. If a product can be produced or a process performed with an alternative chemical that releases fewer or less dangerous chemical particles into the air, the alternative chemical should be used.
Changing the way work is done can also cut down on emissions of toxic chemicals. Raw materials that will emit hazardous compounds can be conserved. Solvents can be reused for initial cleanings while new solvent is only used for final cleaning procedures. Microscale experiments can be done instead of full-scale experiments when appropriate, as this reduces the amount of chemicals used in an experiment. Using video instructions instead of actually conducting hands on experiments also reduces the number of chemicals released. Lab equipment can be upgraded to versions that produce less hazardous waste.
Neutralization of chemical compounds is also important when possible. If laboratory experiments have an option that detoxifies or neutralizes toxic waste, that option should be implemented. Extremely reactive chemicals can be deactivated in a lab hood.