Managing Lab VOCs with Justrite VaporTrap™ Filters
How to Manage Lab VOCs with Justrite VaporTrap™ Filters
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a hot button issue that often receives attention from regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and research organizations including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). While much of the attention is directed at home and office IAQ, the issue is also a very real concern for laboratories.
Dangerous and problematic chemicals are routinely handled in laboratories every day. With there being no question that these materials can negatively affect indoor air quality, their threat must be addressed. It is, therefore, essential for labs to maintain safe and healthy working environments for those handling chemicals.
Most labs impose strict measures to ensure the proper and safe handling of dangerous substances. But even when correct procedures are followed and the chemicals are properly returned to a safety cabinet, their hazard remains. For this reason, Justrite developed the VaporTrap™ Filter as an extra layer of protection to our safety cabinets. Adding the VaporTrap Filter to your cabinet minimizes airborne VOCs, is a best safety practice, and improves lab IAQ.
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What are VOCs?
“VOC” stands for “volatile organic compound,” which refers to chemicals with high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Because of this, VOCs are released into the environment as gases (vapors) from liquids and solids. In the lab, common examples of VOCs include:
- Acetic Acid
There are countless other VOCs, and their impact on the IAQ in a lab can vary greatly. As with all chemicals, some are more hazardous than others.
Why Should You Be Concerned With VOCs?
Exposure to volatile organic compound vapors can cause a variety of health impacts. Although VOC health effects are dependent upon the chemical involved, all are bad. Acute contact with VOCs can cause the following, singularly or in combination:
- Irritation to the eyes
- Burning in the nose and throat
- Allergic skin reaction
Further, long-term exposure to VOCs can lead to far more serious health problems. These may include impairment to the central nervous system, liver and/or kidney damage, and several forms of cancer.
The presence of VOC vapors is often recognized by their smell. Many are aromatic and have a strong, recognizable odor; benzene and formaldehyde are two such examples. And it is often this odor in the lab that is the first clue there is a VOC problem. However, many VOC vapors are odorless and just as dangerous, if not more so, than their aromatic counterparts.
Considering that lab technicians, researchers, and scientists may be opening safety cabinets multiple times during the day, there is always going to be a risk of VOC exposure in laboratories. If you sense a strong chemical odor when opening the cabinet door, airborne VOCs are most likely present. But as referenced above, just because you do not smell anything does not mean you are VOC-free.
VOC vapors have an obvious adverse effect on IAQ, and, consequently, the health of those in the lab. Their hazard potential extends even further; if VOC vapors contaminate samples, they can impact test results. In addition to the possible negative ramifications to those depending upon accurate test results, these types of errors could damage a lab’s reputation in terms of furnishing accurate and reliable analyses.
All these hazards associated with exposure to VOC vapors underscore the importance of managing VOCs in the workplace.
Using VaporTrap Filters to Decrease VOCs in Safety Cabinets
The VaporTrap Filter is purpose-built to decrease VOC vapors in safety cabinets, and ultimately, within your lab. It consists of an activated carbon filter contained in a stainless-steel mesh cartridge. The filter is designed to “adsorb” volatile organic compound vapors within your storage cabinet. “Adsorb” is different from “absorb” in that the process of adsorption binds contaminants to the surface of the carbon filter rather than soaking them up like a sponge (which would be “absorb”). Justrite VaporTrap Filters are 4 inches long and can be easily attached in your safety cabinet via their magnetic base. They are also equipped with a date notation area so that replacement dates are easy to remember. The VaporTrap Filters’ ease of use and effectiveness make them a great choice when VOCs are stored in a safety cabinet.
It is difficult to gauge the VOC vapor adsorption rates or the lifespan of a VaporTrap Filter. Both the lifespan and adsorption rates are influenced by the nature of the chemical(s) in the cabinet, temperature, humidity, charcoal age, and other factors. As a rule, a replacement cycle of every two to three months should ensure their effectiveness.
Additional Methods to Maintain Safe VOC Levels
In addition to utilizing a VaporTrap Filter, there are several other practices and methods that reduce VOCs and VOC vapor exposure in the laboratory. Some highly effective methods on how to keep safe VOC levels are listed below:
Use proper and adequate ventilation
Ensure the ventilation intake is from outside of the lab, and the exhaust is discharged to a location remote from personnel.
Install fume hoods
Fume hoods are an excellent way to control exposure while working with VOCs in the lab. To ensure maximum effectiveness, use a professional installer, follow manufacturer instructions, and activate them whenever VOCs are handled in the lab.
Install ventilation in your safety cabinet
Safety cabinets are equipped with optional ventilation openings. This feature allows users to attach a ventilation system to their safety cabinet. Using this option is a very effective way to manage VOCs.
When employing this option, it is important to realize that safety cabinet ventilation systems can compromise the safety cabinet’s fireproofing capabilities. Always consult a professional when pursuing this method of controlling VOCs.
Promptly handle spills and drips
Spills and drips of chemicals can greatly increase exposure to VOCs. Spills should be immediately contained and recovered using appropriate media and methods. Also, ensure there are no drips on the exterior of safety cans and containers when returning them to the safety cabinet.
Close containers securely
This simple tip can greatly reduce exposure in your laboratory. Improperly closed containers can release large amounts of VOCs into the safety cabinet, and thus eventually into the workplace.
Controlling VOC Exposure in the Workplace
Using a VaporTrap Filter in combination with the methods listed above are best safety practices for decreasing VOC exposure in the workplace, like laboratories. Managing volatile organic compounds improves indoor air quality and reduces health and safety risks to employees. It also improves lab efficiency by preventing errant VOC vapors from contaminating lab samples and producing false or inaccurate results.
Note on this Managing Volatile Organic Compounds Guide
This guide is intended to serve only as a reference to the reader. It is not a substitute for comprehensive knowledge of the safety procedures and regulations surrounding your specific materials, safety cabinet, industry, and location. We assume no liability for the use or misuse of this information. All information is subject to change without prior notice. For comprehensive and location-specific information, we strongly recommend that you contact your local fire marshal or authorities having jurisdiction.
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