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Benefits of Becoming an Industrial Hygienist and How to Find the Right School

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Is the Role of an Industrial Hygienist?
  2. What Are the Benefits of Becoming an Industrial Hygienist?
  3. What Is the Future of Industrial Hygiene?
  4. What Degree Do I Need to Become an Industrial Hygienist?
  5. What Industrial Hygienist Courses Do I Need to Take?
  6. What Does Industrial Hygienist Training Entail?
  7. How Do I Get an Industrial Hygienist Certification?
  8. How Do I Find a School for Industrial Hygienists?
  9. What Schools Have an Industrial Hygienist Program?
  10. Can I Be an Industrial Hygiene Consultant?
  11. Trust Zefon International for Industrial Hygienist Sampling Equipment

 

Did you know that humans have known about industrial hygiene since the fourth century B.C. when Hippocrates observed lead toxicity in the mining industry? Since ancient times, scientists have striven to protect workers and the community from hazards in the workplace and surrounding environment. When Congress passed the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, industrial hygiene became an established field. Now, almost every employer in the United States is required to implement industrial hygiene and safety practices.

If you're passionate about workplace safety and are interested in pursuing a career in industrial hygiene, you'll find there are many benefits to this rewarding career. You will also discover you have plenty of options for obtaining the education and experience required to become a professional industrial hygienist.

 

What Is the Role of an Industrial Hygienist?

Industrial hygienists are engineers and scientists who are devoted to "protecting the health and safety" of those in the workplace and surrounding community, as defined by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). These scientists work behind the scenes to keep people safe from hazards such as asbestos, pesticides, radiation and countless other toxins.

For example, industrial hygienists work to protect individuals from risks associated with formaldehyde exposure. Formaldehyde is a colorless highly toxic gas that is used in many industries, from plastics manufacturing to beauty products. Exposure to formaldehyde can be harmful to workers depending on the dose, the duration and the work being done. An industrial hygienist takes samples of the air and analyzes the air for contaminants like formaldehyde so steps can be taken to reduce workplace hazards. Industrial hygienists also play an important part in making sure that companies comply with federal, state and local laws to keep workers and their families safe. Overall, an industrial hygienist:

  • Examines the workplace for hazards and potential hazards, which may include toxic chemicals, air contaminants, and biological and physical hazards
  • Recommends ways to improve the safety of workers and the community
  • Conducts scientific testing to determine the condition of the workplace
  • Develops methods to eliminate hazards and control potential dangers
  • Educates workers and the community about workplace risks
  • Helps government officials develop regulations to protect the health of workers and the community
  • Makes sure workers follow safety procedures

An industrial hygienist may fulfill the role of scientist, engineer and safety inspector wherever workplace safety is needed. They are also called occupational health and safety specialists.

 

What Are the Benefits of Becoming an Industrial Hygienist?

A career in industrial hygiene has many rewards. Some of the benefits of being an industrial hygienist include:

    • Industrial hygienists help people: Industrial hygienists work to improve the health and life expectancy of workers as well as the health of the community. As an industrial hygienist, you can feel proud at the end of the day, knowing your work made a positive impact.
    • Industrial hygienists help companies improve their bottom line: Industrial hygienists help prevent the number of workers who leave work due to illness or injury. When workers stay, employers do not have to pay the price of replacing employees. Industrial hygienists also encourage companies to adopt safer, more efficient technology. This also aids productivity and helps companies be more successful.
    • The industrial hygienist's salary is higher than average: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational health and safety specialists had a median annual wage of $73,020 in 2018. By contrast, the median earnings of America's full-time workers are about $900 a week, or less than $45,000 a year. With a decent paycheck, you can enjoy your time off and accomplish personal goals.
    • Industrial hygienists have a say when it comes to regulations: Industrial hygienists make a difference by defining regulations that affect workers of the present and the future. Consider that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets mandatory regulations for over 6 million workplaces in the United States. More than 40% of OSHA compliance officers are industrial hygienists.

  • Industrial hygienists know the meaning of job diversity: Industrial hygienists have many options when it comes to the type of industry they work in. They are employed by a variety of organizations, from insurance companies to hazardous waste companies.

 

What Is the Future of Industrial Hygiene?

While many workplace hazards of the past still exist, such as asbestos and lead, today's industrial hygienists must prepare for health risks that may come with new technologies.

To be successful in the future, industrial hygienists must continually learn and evolve with technology. This includes developing new sciences and practices to keep up with companies who use advanced technology and who manufacture new products. In general, industrial hygienists must take a proactive approach to promote health and safety. As long as industrial hygienists evolve with technological advancements in the workplace, their future remains bright.

 

What Degree Do I Need to Become an Industrial Hygienist?

An industrial hygienist needs at least a bachelor's degree to get a job in the field. Some positions require a master's degree. Here's an overview of the steps you need to take to become an industrial hygienist:

  • Obtain a bachelor's degree: The first step to becoming an industrial hygienist is to get a bachelor's degree in occupational health, chemistry, engineering, physics, biology or another related science degree. Some schools offer bachelor degree programs in industrial hygiene or occupational health and safety. If you plan on becoming certified, check the coursework requirements with the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) to ensure you take the right classes in college.
  • Finish on-the-job training: After earning a bachelor's degree, you need to gain real-world experience working as an industrial hygienist and learn the applicable laws and methods of the workplace. According to the AIHA, a professional industrial hygienist is someone who has a bachelor's degree in a closely related science and a minimum of three years of industrial hygiene experience. A doctorate in a related field can be used as a substitute for two of the three years, and a master's degree can be a substitute for one year of the three-year requirement.
  • Become a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH): The AIHA urges industrial hygienists to earn a certification through the ABIH after gaining a degree and work experience. To become a CIH, you will need a bachelor's degree, specific industrial hygienist coursework under your belt, at least four years of industrial hygiene practice, and at least two professional references. You will need to recertify every five years to maintain your certification.
  • Consider a master's degree: If you wish to advance your career or fill a leadership role, you may need to earn a master's degree. A master's degree in industrial hygiene, public health or occupational health sciences will make you eligible for higher-level positions.

 

What Industrial Hygienist Courses Do I Need to Take?

If your goal is to become a CIH through the ABIH, you'll need to complete the required coursework while obtaining your bachelor's degree at an accredited university or college. You will need to complete courses in the following subjects:

  • Toxicology: Plan to complete toxicology courses that cover the adverse effects of chemicals on humans.
  • Industrial hygiene fundamentals: You will need to take courses that cover topics such as hazards and stressors found in the workplace, including chemical, physical and biological hazards.
  • Measurement and control: You will need to complete courses that address the fundamentals of measurement and control methods. Topics covered may include engineering, administration and personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Ethics: Lastly, you'll need to complete courses in ethics, which may cover topics such as business conflicts, workplace relationships or confidentiality of sensitive information.

If you miss any of the required courses in college, you can complete continuing education courses to meet the requirements for certification. If you complete an industrial hygiene bachelor's or master's program, you can send your transcripts to the ABIH to prove you've completed the necessary coursework. Make sure your transcripts include two hours of ethics coursework, even with a bachelor's or master's degree.

 

What Does Industrial Hygienist Training Entail?

The nature of industrial hygienist training depends on the industry and company in which you work. The majority of industrial hygienists work for federal, state or local governments. Industrial hygienists also commonly work in the manufacturing and construction industries. Training will be specific to your workplace. For example, your training will be much different if you work in an office than if you work in a factory.

Regardless of where you work, you can expect to be trained by an experienced professional. Your supervisor will teach you the techniques and skills required to fulfill your position successfully. If your role is complex, supervision may last up to a year.

As an example, consider the four-day Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene course offered by the National Safety Council (NSC). This course, designed for safety and health personnel with limited training or experience in industrial hygiene, teaches the following:

  • How to conduct analyses to determine industrial hygiene needs
  • How to distinguish chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic hazards
  • Basic toxicology
  • Hazard evaluation techniques
  • Emerging trends in workplace hazards
  • How to use monitoring equipment

You can expect similar training topics early in your career once you're hired as an industrial hygienist. As a CIH, you will need to continue learning about industry trends and new monitoring and testing methods to maintain your certification and evolve with the times.

 

How Do I Get an Industrial Hygienist Certification?

To become certified by the ABIH, you must satisfy their education, experience and other eligibility requirements. You must then pass the Comprehensive Practice exam, which is based on actual experience. You will need to take the following steps:

  • Review the requirements and determine your eligibility
  • Complete an application, which requires education transcripts, two professional references and a $150 fee
  • Once approved, schedule and take the exam, which requires a fee of $350

 

How Do I Find a School for Industrial Hygienists?

There are plenty of ways to search for schools online and find the right college for you, which depends on factors such as your location and financial needs. U.S. News & World Report recommends the following websites to search for colleges and to check facts on different schools:

  • College Navigator
  • College Insight
  • College Board
  • Unigo

An excellent resource for finding schools that offer industrial hygienist programs is the ABIH's website. Remember, industrial hygienist programs may also be listed under occupational health and safety specialists or inspectors.

 

What Schools Have an Industrial Hygienist Program?

According to the ABIH, the following schools offer bachelor's level programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET):

  • Purdue University
  • Utah State University
  • University of North Alabama
  • University of Houston-Clear Lake

If you want to get your master's in industrial hygiene, you have plenty of options. Here are a few ABET-accredited schools offering master's degrees in industrial hygiene:

  • Colorado State University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Purdue University
  • Tulane University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Central Missouri
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Utah
  • University of Toledo
  • West Virginia University

Visit abih.org for the complete list.

 

Can I Be an Industrial Hygiene Consultant?

Although many industrial hygienists work for government agencies or corporations, the fastest-growing sector of the field is consulting. As an industrial hygienist consultant, you would fill the same role as an industrial hygienist who works for the government, for example, except you would either work for a consulting firm or be self-employed with your own consulting business.

For example, if you work for an industrial hygienist consulting firm, you will travel to clients' facilities, which may range from colleges to warehouses, and identify and evaluate hazards or potential risks, and make recommendations for improving workplace safety.

 

Trust Zefon International for Industrial Hygienist Sampling Equipment

Industrial hygienists help protect workers and the community from dangerous toxins and hazards in the environment, but they do not complete their work alone. To offer their knowledge and services, they must use the best tools and testing methods available. If you plan on pursuing a career in industrial hygiene, whether you wish to work for a company or start your own consulting business, you need a trustworthy supplier of high-quality sampling equipment. That's what we're here for at Zefon International.

Zefon International is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of air sampling equipment in the world. We offer products to test for mold, asbestos, dust, lead, metals, silica and much more. We are committed to superior quality, exceptional customer service, on-time delivery and competitive pricing, which is why we've been a partner with air experts since 1990. To learn more about our industrial hygienist products, contact a Zefon Sales Representative today!

OSHA Indoor Air Quality Standards & Identifying IAQ Problems in the Workplace

osha-iaq-standards

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Indoor Air Quality, and Why Is It Important?
  2. What is Considered Good Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace?
  3. What Are the Most Common Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality?
  4. What Are OSHA IAQ Standards?
  5. General Duty Clause
  6. OSHA PELs
  7. What Are the Consequences of Poor Indoor Air Quality?
  8. How Can I Tell if There Is an Indoor Air Quality Problem in My Workplace?
  9. How to Find Indoor Air Quality Problems
  10. What Should My Employer Be Doing to Prevent Indoor Air Quality Problems?
  11. Sampling the Workplace for Indoor Air Quality

 

If you've ever watched Mad Men or any other TV show about the '50s, you're probably familiar with scenes of smoke-filled offices and lounge spaces. While these environments might set a good scene for films, they're certainly not suitable conditions for working.

Though rampant smoking is less of a problem today, poor air quality at work remains a vital issue to address.

Many workers spend 40 hours a week indoors, in the close quarters of offices or cubicles. With so much time spent at the office, a healthy indoor environment is essential. Air quality is important to employees' health, comfort, well-being, morale and productivity.

It's essential for employers to be proactive and take steps to identify potential air quality problems before they lead to discomfort and illness. Below we've outlined how to take proactive measures and comply with OSHA air quality regulations.


What Is Indoor Air Quality, and Why Is It Important?

Indoor air quality refers to the temperature, humidity and freshness of the air inside a building. For proper indoor air quality, building air should have comfortable temperature and humidity, sufficient ventilation, an adequate supply of fresh air from outdoors, and careful management of pollutants from indoor and outdoor sources.

Heat, humidity, and pollution all affect health and well-being. The air quality in a building should not cause sickness or make it so employees can't work efficiently because of their discomfort. Mold, chemical and biological contaminants and buildups of carbon dioxide in indoor air often contribute employees' unwellness in the workplace.

When employees feel that the office environment is too hot, too cold, too humid or too dry — or when they experience constant dry, irritated eyes, throats, and skin — poor air conditions can lead to measurable consequences like:

  • Diminished concentration
  • Diminished problem-solving abilities
  • Lack of focus
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased job satisfaction and morale
  • Decreased work efficiency and productivity
  • Increased use of sick days

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that people spend 90% of their time indoors. Because people spend such a substantial percentage of time inside, the quality of indoor air is a significant public health issue.

"Sick building syndrome" is the name given to the generalized discomfort that results from poor air quality. Telltale signs of sick building syndrome include the following:

  • Symptoms that occur at work and disappear when employees leave the building, when they leave work for the weekend or go on vacation
  • Headaches, lightheadedness, nausea and fatigue
  • Skin rashes or irritation
  • Eye and respiratory inflammation, often accompanied by congestion or a runny nose
  • "Humidifier fever," characterized by fever, body aches and shortness of breath
  • Exacerbation of chronic respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma

"Building-related illnesses" lead to specific, long-term detrimental effects as a result of poor air quality, including:

A building with poor air quality resulting from inadequate ventilation is also likely to harbor viruses and bacteria. In addition to suffering the direct effects of poor air quality, employees in these buildings will get more colds and other infectious diseases.

It's best to prevent these problems with proactive measures rather than to address them at great cost, effort and loss of productivity after the fact.


What is Considered Good Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace?

good-indoor-air-quality-in-the-workplace

Signs of good indoor air quality in the workplace include the following:

  • Good ventilation: The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system should be in good repair and functioning properly.
  • Appropriate temperature and humidity: The temperature and humidity in the building should be set so that employees who are wearing a typical amount of clothing are not too hot or too cold. The environment should be neither swampy nor dry.
  • Freedom from allergens, pathogens and other biological contaminants: There should be no dirt, mold, mildew, pollen, dust, bacteria or pest droppings in the environment to cause allergies, respiratory symptoms, skin irritation or flu-like symptoms.
  • Freedom from tobacco smoke: Tobacco smoke contains a host of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, ammonia, tars and nicotine.


What Are the Most Common Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Poor indoor air quality commonly results from the following factors:

  • Poor ventilation: In 52% of cases, inadequate ventilation is at fault in poor indoor air quality. Poor ventilation can result from a problem with the HVAC system or from poor building design in which the flow of contaminated air channels through workspaces instead of out of the building. Without proper ventilation, pollutants build up in the environment and cause illness.
  • Poor temperature regulation: The temperature in a building depends on several factors — indoor sources of heat and cooling such as the HVAC system, exposure to sunlight, the outdoor temperature, insulation and ventilation. If building managers fail to adjust for these temperature factors, the workspace becomes uncomfortably sweltering or chilly.
  • Poor humidity regulation: Too much humidity is uncomfortable, and it encourages mold growth and attracts pests. Too little humidity — often a problem in winter, when the heating system dries out the air — causes dry, irritated skin. It can also dry out sinuses and lead to nosebleeds.
  • Irregular maintenance of the HVAC, exhaust and ventilation systems: Without regular maintenance, these systems become contaminated, clogged or broken. When they cannot function efficiently, pollutants build up.
  • Construction or remodeling: Construction work stirs up dust and other particulates. Particleboard, paint, carpet, adhesives and other construction materials contain pollutants can cause inflammation when they reach the respiratory system or contact skin.
  • Improper use of cleaning supplies, pesticides and other airborne chemicals: Using airborne chemicals in high-traffic areas, during peak hours or without proper ventilation reduces air quality and leads to illness.
  • Moisture from flooding, leaks or high humidity: The resulting mold proliferates beneath carpet and in ductwork, insulation, showers, and dirty or clogged HVAC drain pans. It produces a musty smell at best and — in the worst case scenario — mycotoxins that are harmful to human health.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is a major contributor to poor indoor air quality. Many respirable indoor air particulates — those that can be breathed into the lungs — come from tobacco smoke.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): These compounds — which evaporate at room temperature into the air and can be breathed in — include paints, stains, waxes, cleaners, lubricants, air fresheners, fuels, glues, perfumes and even the chemicals from dry-cleaned clothes. These decrease the air quality in the workplace, especially when combined with improper ventilation.
  • Pests: Bat and bird droppings, along with vermin like roaches, rats and mice, cause allergic reactions and spread airborne diseases.


What Are OSHA IAQ Standards?

The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) does not mandate a general indoor air quality standard. It provides OSHA indoor air quality guidelines to address common workplace complaints about air quality, and it maintains permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hazardous conditions that may lead to serious physical harm or death.


General Duty Clause

OSHA's section 5(a)(1), the General Duty Clause, requires that an employer "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to comply with occupational safety and health hazards "promulgated under this act."


OSHA PELs

Most PELs were issued shortly after 1970 and have not been updated since that time. Many individual states and companies supplement them with their own regulations and guidelines. Most OSHA PELs indicate a weighted 8-hour average maximum, though some — as with cyanide — indicate the maximum amount allowed at any time. The PELs below are given in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m³):

  • Acetone: 1000 ppm
  • Arsenic: .5 mg/m³
  • Carbon dioxide: 5000 ppm
  • Carbon monoxide: 50 ppm
  • Chloroform: 50 ppm
  • Cyanides: 5 mg/m³
  • DDT: 1 mg/m³.
  • Grain dust: 10 mg/m³
  • Naphtha (coal tar): 100 ppm
  • Nicotine: .5 mg/m³
  • Nitroglycerine: .2 ppm
  • Petroleum distillates: 500 ppm
  • Respirable aluminum, graphite, limestone, marble, Portland cement, and plaster-of-Paris dust: 5 mg/m³
  • Respirable particulates not otherwise regulated (PNOR): 5 mg/m³
  • Respirable vegetable oil mist: 5 mg/m³

Though no enforceable regulation exists, OSHA recommends indoor temperatures of 68–76° F and humidities from 20% to 60%.


What Are the Consequences of Poor Indoor Air Quality?

osha-penaltues

The OSHA penalties for violations typically consist of fines of $13,260. For violations that go unaddressed, the penalties may rise to $13,260 per day until the problem abates. The penalty for a willful or repeated violation increases the base fine by a factor of 10 to $132,580.

While fines for poor air quality at work are hefty, the immeasurable consequences of illness, reduced productivity, decline in employee morale and increased absences are likely to do more damage and cost a workplace more money than the fines themselves. It's essential for employers to know how to avoid OSHA penalties both to avoid fines and to give employees a workplace where they can perform at their best.


How Can I Tell if There Is an Indoor Air Quality Problem in My Workplace?

The air at your workplace may not be meeting OSHA indoor air quality standards if any of the following scenarios apply at work:

  • You have unexplained occurrences of eye or respiratory inflammation, skin irritation, dizziness, nausea, fatigue or flu-like symptoms.
  • You have symptoms that occur only at work or diminish outside of work.
  • Your symptoms started with something new at work, like construction or a new pest control regimen, or are similar to symptoms described by others at your workplace.
  • Allergy testing reveals an allergy to specific chemicals found at your workplace.
  • Asthma or allergies are worsening without a known cause.


How to Find Indoor Air Quality Problems

There is no single OSHA test to determine indoor air quality. However, if you suspect poor indoor air quality is a problem at your workplace, you can take the following measures:

  • Speak with the building manager. Ask for a check of the HVAC system. Request that the building manager do a walk-through of the building to check for water damage, mold, insect or rodent activity and pollution sources venting into the air intake.
  • Contact OSHA for an inspection. Employers cannot legally discriminate or retaliate against employees who do so.
  • Sample IAQ. Request that your employer arranges to take samples to measure the indoor air quality of the building.


What Should My Employer Be Doing to Prevent Indoor Air Quality Problems?

Employers should take the following preventative measures to avoid OSHA penalties:

  • Increase ventilation. There are no specific OSHA ventilation standards for specific cubic feet per minute (CFM), but similar organizations have made recommendations from 5 to 15 CFM per person [IC] for general office space and up to 60 CFM per person if employees are smoking in that area.
  • Perform regular inspections.
  • Perform preventative maintenance on the HVAC system. Preventative maintenance includes changing filters regularly, cleaning drain pans and lines, fixing leaks, cleaning spills, checking flues and making sure vents are pest-proof.
  • Eliminate leaks and standing water. Clean wet areas like showers thoroughly and throw away any water-damaged materials.
  • Comply with state-level radon and asbestos testing and requirements.
  • Prohibit smoking except in designated areas away from air intakes.
  • Keep temperature and humidity within comfortable levels.
  • Take samples to measure air quality.

temperature-and-humidity

To prevent air pollution from indoor sources, employers should do the following:

  • Reduce the use of aerosols and air fresheners.
  • Dilute chemical sprays and cleansers per the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Use chemicals during low-occupancy periods.
  • Store chemicals properly.
  • Use high-efficiency vacuum bags and change them frequently.
  • Use exhaust hoods in laboratory spaces and kitchens.
  • Use pest baits and traps instead of pesticides. When pesticides are necessary, use them in target areas and only during low-occupancy hours.

To prevent pollution from outdoor sources, employers should do the following:

  • Use air filters.
  • Require engines to be shut off at the loading dock, or use pressurized vestibules and sealed doors near the loading dock.
  • Locate air intakes away from sources of pollution, such as incinerators, pesticide sprayers, exhaust vents, and sources of water.
  • Make sure the building is pressurized appropriately. A negatively pressurized building will draw in outside air through cracks.


Sampling the Workplace for Indoor Air Quality

What contaminants does OSHA test for? Below you will find some of the types of air toxins that OSHA tests for and recommends sampling to ensure high indoor air quality:

  • Acetic acid: Found in X-rays ad silicone caulking, this acid causes eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Asbestos: Found in insulation, drywall and plasters, this toxin has no acute effects, but long-term exposure to airborne asbestos causes cancer.
  • Carbon dioxide: Found in human respiration and combustion products, carbon dioxide causes difficulty in getting enough oxygen and leads to sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Carbon monoxide: Found in fossil fuel exhaust, carbon monoxide causes dizziness, headaches, nausea, and ultimately cardiovascular impairment and death.
  • Formaldehyde: Found in plywood, particle board, carpeting, fabric, glues and insulation, this chemical causes a strong unpleasant odor, skin rashes and eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Microorganisms/biological contaminants: These cause allergic reactions, skin, eye and respiratory irritation, and serious illnesses such as hantavirus. Biological contaminants can include anything from viruses, mold and bacteria to pollen, mites, amoebae, and insect and animal droppings.
  • Nitrogen oxide: Found in combustion from gas furnaces and appliances, this chemical causes eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Ozone: Found in copy machines, electrostatic air cleaners and smog, ozone causes eye and respiratory irritation and exacerbation of chronic respiratory conditions.
  • Radon: Found in soil and groundwater, radon has no acute effects, but long-term exposure causes lung cancer.
  • Synthetic fibers: Found in fibrous glass and wool, synthetic fibers cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Tobacco smoke: This toxin in cigarettes and pipe smoke causes eye and respiratory irritation, exacerbates allergies and asthma and can lead to lung cancer.
  • VOCs: These cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and eye and respiratory irritation.

Several different types of equipment sample indoor air quality to determine whether it meets OSHA air quality regulations, including:

  • Sampling Cassettes: These tools come as either preloaded cassettes — which contain a pre-installed filter and require no assembly before use — or reusable unloaded cassettes. Sampling cassettes test for a variety of contaminants and come in a range of diameters for use with different applications. They contain quality adhesives to catch and hold contaminants without requiring cleanup. They require no swabbing or transfer of materials — they can go directly to the lab when full.
  • Inhalable Sampler: Unique to Zefon International, inhalable samplers are specifically designed to clip to a shirt collar to measure the quality of the air an employee breathes. They trap respirable particles — typically those measuring up to 100 µm in diameter.
  • Nanoparticle Samplers: Nanoparticle samplers are specifically engineered to measure the tiny, nanometer-measured particles generated as a byproduct of nanotechnology. They are meant to be worn and collect particles while an employee works.
  • Sampling Pump: Sampling pumps pair with filters and cassettes to collect air from the environment. They are designed for a range of applications, from static use in large areas to being worn for personal sampling on the job. Some are specifically designed for hazardous underground occupations like mining.
  • Portable Instruments: Portable instruments include monitors like dust monitors, air quality meters to measure temperature, humidity, air velocity or carbon dioxide concentration, and differential pressure monitors to test for asbestos, lead and mold. Laser particle counters test for tiny particles to make sure no source of poor air quality goes unnoticed.
  • Gas Detection Equipment: These tubes and sample bags test for specific gases. Detector tubes change color when exposed to specific gases so that there's no need to wait for laboratory testing, whereas gas sample bags collect air samples for later analysis.


Contact Zefon International, Your IAQ Sampling Equipment Provider

Zefon offers a wealth of state-of-the-art, industry-leading equipment to keep indoor air quality high and employees healthy, comfortable and high-functioning. A small investment in air quality testing leads to immeasurable benefits for health and productivity in the workplace — and Zefon can help your workplace meet OSHA air quality standards to achieve those goals.

osha standards experts

To ensure clean, healthy, quality indoor air for your work environment, please get in touch today by filling out the pop-up contact form on our website or calling 1-352-854-8080.

What Are Gas Detector Tubes and What Are They Used For?

what are gas detector tubes

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Gas Detector Tubes?
  2. When to Use Gas Detector Tubes
  3. What Gases Do Gas Detector Tubes Test For?
  4. How Do Gas Detector Tubes Work?
  5. How to Use Gas Detector Tubes
  6. How to Solve Problems With Gas Detector Tubes
  7. Pros of Gas Detector Tubes
  8. Cons of Gas Detector Tubes
  9. Choosing the Right Gas Detector Tube

 

Gas detector tubes provide you with an easy-to-use method of testing for a variety of gases. You don't need extensive chemistry knowledge to use these tubes or interpret the results. From xylene to carbon monoxide, you can use gas detector tubes to look for the presence of gases. These tubes prove you can use efficient materials to get fast results when measuring air quality.


What Are Gas Detector Tubes?

what gasses detector tube test for

Gas detector tubes are an excellent way to get initial readings for gases around sites where air quality is a concern. Chemical spills, fires and gas leaks all can contaminate the air. Gas detector tubes make it easier to see whether toxic substances remain in the air near the site of the incident.

To use gas detector tubes, you also need a sampling pump. This pump requires no electricity, making it ideal for field use. You will need a means of transporting the tubes to the site safely, but the tubes need nothing more than the pump to take a reading and interpret the results. A color-coded guide on the side of the tube helps you read the concentration of gas the tube detected.


When to Use Gas Detector Tubes

Gas detector tubes measure concentrations of specific gases in the air. The amount found depends on the particular glass container you use as even those for the same gas will measure different parts per million (ppm) of the gas.

Some gases can be toxic to people who inhale them. Since not all gases produce immediate effects, those working in the area could breathe in the gas without knowing it, only to have serious health consequences later. To prevent this, test for the likeliest gases in areas where you suspect dangerous levels to occur. For instance, after a chemical leak, you may need to measure the air for excessive levels of the leaked chemical to determine when workers can safely return to the area.

Another use of gas detector tubes is to measure for adequate levels of oxygen. In some working conditions, excessive airborne particles may reduce the amount of oxygen in the air. To prevent hypoxia in workers, you may need to regularly test that the area has enough oxygen for a safe and comfortable work environment.


What Gases Do Gas Detector Tubes Test For?

harmful gasses to test for

Gastec gas detector tubes have options available to test for over 600 different gases. You will likely find a detector tube for the specific gas you need to monitor.

  • Oxygen: Tubes can measure for adequate amounts of oxygen in enclosed, stagnant areas such as utility holes, sewers, storage tanks and silos. Atmospheric air contains about 21 percent oxygen while the human body has 65 percent. A lack of oxygen could lead to suffocation of workers in small spaces.
  • Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so you must actively test for it to identify its presence. This gas often appears in facilities with fires because carbon monoxide occurs as a byproduct of combustion. Too much carbon monoxide can prevent workers from getting enough oxygen, and high levels of carbon monoxide exposure may be fatal.
  • Chlorine: Water treatment facilities and swimming pools regularly use chlorine to prevent bacterial growth in the water. Exposure to chlorine gas at more than 14 ppm can be fatal when inhaled.
  • Ethylene oxide: Usually, gas detector tubes will measure ethylene oxide to look for high concentrations indicative of a leak. For testing amounts of this gas in ambient air, use solid sampling or another measuring method.
  • Dioxins: Dioxins are toxic in low concentrations, so a gas detector tube is useful at identifying their presence. Most often, dioxins form from the burning of oxygen, chlorine, hydrogen and carbon, as may occur with trash burning.
  • Chlorine dioxide: Compared to chlorine, chlorine dioxide produces more severe side effects for people exposed to it. Though alone, chlorine dioxide is not flammable, it can readily combine with oxygen, increasing the chances of explosions or fires when it collects in an area.
  • Tetrachloroethylene: Normally used as an industrial solvent, tetrachloroethylene can cause dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness and skin and eye irritation. Testing for excessive levels of this substance helps ensure the safety of workplaces where it is in use.
  • Hydrogen chloride: Hydrogen chloride more commonly occurs in the form of hydrochloric acid. This substance causes nose and throat irritation, in addition to coughing. High concentrations may be fatal. Many industrial facilities use this substance in the creation of medical supplies, etching fluids and much more. Any chemical plant where hydrogen chloride is part of the production process or produced should regularly test for this gas.
  • Arsenic: Carcinogenic and toxic to the digestive system, arsenic has severe effects for those with exposure to it. When arsenic contacts an acid, the reaction produces a highly poisonous gas called arsine. Gas detectors should monitor for the presence of arsenic at semiconductor and insecticide plants, where arsenic is part of the production process.
  • Hydrogen cyanide: Many industrial facilities use hydrogen cyanide for production. Ironworks and metal plating facilities frequently use this substance. However, exposure to just 110 ppm can be fatal after half an hour. Detecting this gas in the air in facilities that produce or use it could save the lives of the workers inside.
  • Methane: Though methane does not pose a health hazard for people, this gas is highly explosive. Detecting amounts that could ignite in the air helps prevent fires.
  • Formalin: Formalin occurs in many resins used for finishing in buildings. The fumes from these resins may cause coughing and eye irritation. Long-term exposure may result in kidney and liver problems. Many homeowners feel concern about the levels of formalin in their homes due to these resin fumes. The air quality industry is quickly recognizing this gas as a potential health hazard for people inside.


How Do Gas Detector Tubes Work?

Inside gas detector tubes are chemicals that react with the substance the device measures. After a one- to three-minute chemical reaction, the gas inside the cylinder changes color and rises to a marked level on the side of the tube to indicate the percentage of the detected gas in the sampled air in parts per million. Each tube uses a different substance to react with a particular gas. Because these chemicals rely on measuring certain chemicals and concentrations, you must use the appropriate detector cylinder when sampling an area.


How to Use Gas Detector Tubes

To use the gas detector tubes, you need a tube and pump from the same manufacturer. Steps taken to use the measuring cylinders are few, and the results appear after a short period. You will only require a small amount of time and effort to get results.

  1. Prepare the tube: Use the included tip breaker on the pump to remove both ends from the gas detector tube.
  2. Insert the tube: Push the pump handle all the way in. Insert the tube in the other end with the arrow on the tube directed at the pump.
  3. Align the pump: Turn the handle until the red guide mark on the top of the pump and the black mark on the handle align.
  4. Take the sample: Point the end with the tube toward the area you need to sample. Pull the handle to the halfway mark if you need a 50mL sample or all the way for a 100mL sample.
  5. Time the sample: Watch the white flow indicator on the handle. It will pop out when the sampling time has finished.
  6. Read the coloring: Remove the tube and look at the gauge on the side of the tube to get an estimate of the concentration of the gas.

Because using these tubes requires so few steps, almost anyone can use them. You can send out multiple people with pumps and tubes to gather air quality readings for a variety of gases in an area. The ease of use and speed of obtaining the results make gas detector tubes the best option for when you need to measure air quality without delay.


How to Solve Problems With Gas Detector Tubes

how to solve problems with gas detector tubes

Several problems may arise during use, including unexpected results and concerns about the accuracy of the results. Proper storage and use of the tubes will prevent many common issues users face.


1. Correct Storage

The manufacturer Gastec instructs users never to freeze gas detection tubes, even those that require storage in cool temperatures. Look at the instructions for the particular tube to see if it requires refrigeration. For example, tubes that detect certain levels of chlorine, chloroform, carbonyl sulfide and carbon tetrachloride require refrigeration. The instructions are necessary, though, because tubes with a range of 25 to 1,000 ppm for chloride do not require storage below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but chlorine detector tubes for smaller amounts such as 0.025 to 2 ppm need refrigeration. Even gas detector tubes that do not need refrigeration should stay in a cool, dry place until use.

In addition to storage conditions, consider the length of time you keep the tubes. Pay close attention to expiration dates because the gas detector tubes maintain accuracy only until they expire. Gastec does not ensure the accuracy of any results of expired tubes. When testing for air quality, you should use equipment that will return results you feel confident about. Because you cannot be sure of the results from expired gas detector tubes, never use them. Discard any expired tubes you have appropriately with other glass.


2. Proper Use

Proper use of gas detector tubes will prevent several issues with results. Never use a Gastec brand tube with any other maker's pump. The company designs its pumps and gas detection cylinders to work together for fit, sampling and timing. Always check the pump for a vacuum before taking a sample. If your gas detector tube did not change colors after sampling, the pump might not have created a vacuum.

When taking samples of air to measure for oxygen, the tubes will naturally warm due to the chemical reaction occurring inside. Keep your hands away from these detector tubes for at least two to three minutes after obtaining a sample to prevent burning your fingers. After this time, the heat from the oxygen detector tubes should dissipate enough to allow you to handle the part.

By following the directions for gas detector tubes, you will prevent many problems some people encounter with these measuring devices.


Pros of Gas Detector Tubes

Gas detector tubes work well when you require immediate results and cannot wait for a lab to process your sample. The speed you can have results returned make these tubes a better option than other means of monitoring air quality. If you need fast results after an incident, few other monitoring options will give you the speed and ease of use you need.

Another benefit of gas detector tubes is their ease of use. Almost anyone can quickly learn to take samples and interpret the results. You don't need chemistry knowledge to read the gauge on the side of the tube.

Compared to other methods of air quality sampling, gas detector tubes cost much less. Many tubes come in multipacks, allowing you to take several readings over time for one price. The pump required for taking a sample with these tubes is reusable, even if each tube only has a single use. Investing in a pump to use for these detector tubes allows you to take advantage of the lower priced sampling method detector tubes provide.


Cons of Gas Detector Tubes

Though gas detector tubes have many advantages, there are some drawbacks. First, the results may not have the accuracy you require. Check the individual tubes for information on standard deviation from accepted results. Additionally, other gases may interfere with the detection of the target gas.

Despite these minor disadvantages, gas detector tubes provide you with an easy way of determining the safety of an area without waiting for lab results.


Choosing the Right Gas Detector Tube

Each gas you test for requires a specific gas detector tube. You must know which gases you need to measure and the parts per million limits you consider safe. Detector tubes measure for ranges of gases, and if you don't use the right tube or sample size, you will not get accurate results.

The environment and any recent events will help you choose which tubes you need. For example, measuring ethylene oxide may be a part of a protocol for checking an industrial facility for leaks. Oxygen measurement may happen in areas with little air flow.

Understanding where these gas detector cylinders perform best starts with knowing the likelihood of encountering specific gases. This knowledge will make it easier for you to choose the right detector tubes.


Zefon International, Your Gastec Detection Tube Provider

gastec detector tube provider

Make environmental testing easier, whatever your field. Find the Gastec gas detector tubes for the substances you need to look for. We have hundreds of models that detect different gases in the air. Search for the Gastec gas detector tube you need quickly and easily at Zefon International. With so many options available for determining air quality, we are the professional choice for air sampling equipment.

How Do Hurricanes Affect Air Quality?

How do hurricanes affect air quality

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Hurricanes?
  2. How Do They Occur?
  3. Environmental Effects of a Hurricane
  4. Tips to Protect Your Home Against Flooding
  5. How to Prepare for a Hurricane
  6. Post-Hurricane Hazards to Avoid
  7. Mold Damage From Hurricane Flooding
  8. How to Test for Mold After a Hurricane

 

Hurricanes are not just brief events. They can create long-lasting effects after the storm has passed. When storm surge and flood waters recede, the moisture they left behind can cause mold, which can affect household air quality. Being aware of this problem is an excellent way to become proactive in testing for air quality issues and removing their sources. Hurricanes may be part of life on the coast, but they are problems you can recover from with the right tools.

 

What Are Hurricanes?

What are hurricanes?

Hurricanes are storms that develop in the Atlantic Ocean, eastern Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico between June and November. Often, it takes weeks for these storms to grow and reach land, but sometimes, they can appear and strike within a few days. Because hurricanes can be unpredictable, no matter how skilled forecasters have become, experts recommend you remain vigilant and prepared for a storm throughout the hurricane season.

 

How Do They Occur?

Hurricanes occur when ocean water warms during the spring, summer and early fall. Warm air just above the water's surface rises. The rising warm air creates a reduction in pressure at the surface, what meteorologists call a low-pressure area. Because nearby air is at a higher pressure, it will flow into the low-pressure zone. But as before, the warmer air rises upward, creating an updraft that also pulls moisture from the warm water up into the atmosphere.

The warm air releases its moisture as it cools during its rise. This moisture creates clouds over the low-pressure area. Once the air has given off its moisture and cooled, it spreads away from the central low-pressure area and sinks back down to the surface to restart the cycle. Over time, the added moisture builds bigger and bigger clouds, and the low-pressure area gets larger and stronger. The storm will begin to rotate, and a tropical storm forms once the winds inside measure at least 39 miles per hour. This level is the early stage of rotation a storm must reach before progressing onto hurricane status.

Hurricanes form as tropical storms continue to spin and grow. This growth occurs over warm ocean waters, and if the storm crosses land, it weakens because it loses its source of energy in the ocean. A storm becomes a hurricane based on the wind speeds of the storm. There are five categories of hurricane severity, based on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

  • Category 1: A Category 1 hurricane will have the lowest windspeeds allowed for a hurricane, 74 to 95 miles per hour. These strong winds produce damage such as downed power lines and fallen tree branches. Most well-built homes will only suffer external damage, though.
  • Category 2: With winds measuring from 96 to 110 miles per hour, Category 2 storms are dangerous enough to cause extensive damage. Widespread power loss, uprooted trees and significant roof damage of homes are likely to occur.
  • Category 3: Category 3 is the first of the major storm types. These hurricanes have sustained winds measuring from 111 to 129 miles per hour. Damages likely will include numerous road blockages from uprooted trees and water and power outages lasting for weeks.
  • Category 4: Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, was a Category 4 storm. The winds in a Category 4 storm measure between 130 and 156 miles per hour. These storms create catastrophic losses. Homes often lose roofs and walls, and power outages can last months. Some places may become uninhabitable for weeks after the storm.
  • Category 5: Currently, the highest hurricane classification is Category 5, which is a storm with winds greater than 157 miles per hour. Hurricanes of this category cause widespread home destruction, and downed trees can isolate areas from emergency crews. For major storms, evacuating the region could save your life.

While the Saffir-Simpson scale indicates predicted damages from storms of specific categories, some more recent hurricanes have proven to be more damaging than predicted. For instance, Hurricane Harvey, while downgraded to a Category 3 storm after its initial landfall, caused devastating, widespread flooding throughout southeast Texas. The storm category could not prepare residents for the rain and flooding that followed.

Because wind speed is not the only factor influencing the amount of damage a storm may cause, some argue for adding more categories or using other parameters to make the current scale more accurate. Dr. Greg Postel, a hurricane specialist with The Weather Channel, said of the Saffir-Simpson scale that it's "not the most useful way to look at [storm] impacts." Windspeeds cannot predict flooding risks, and storm surge may venture outside predicted levels. While the Saffir-Simpson scale is not going away, it's critical for those living in hurricane-prone areas to look at all factors of the storm during preparations.

 

Environmental Effects of a Hurricane

Hurricanes have a dramatic effect on the environment. From changing shorelines to impacting the air, hurricanes can affect more than just manmade structures.

Storm surge and the barrage of waves against the shore cause erosion of coastlines. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a category four storm, completely defoliated the northern Florida Keys. Later, when the storm struck Louisiana, it took 70 percent of the sand from the barrier islands. The sand removed from the barrier islands covered 80 percent of the oyster beds behind the islands. These environmental changes devastated the local flora and fauna. In Florida, old-growth mangrove forests died from the damage, and in Louisiana, the loss of dunes along the shore took the homes of many animals in the area.

Flood waters from hurricanes are problematic in their ability to trigger air pollution from damage to refineries and other industrial complexes. After Hurricane Harvey, refineries and petrochemical plants in the area released 8.3 million pounds of pollution into the atmosphere. Just days after the storm, pollutants contributed to three days in a row with high ozone levels, including the worst day in the state for smog levels, Sept. 1, 2017.

Pollution is not just a problem for Texas. Air pollution after a hurricane is a problem everywhere storms strike. For flooded homes, mold can develop, creating indoor air pollution. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you need to prepare for the effects a storm can have on air pollution in your area.

 

Tips to Protect Your Home Against Flooding

Tips to Protect Your Home against flooding

Flooding from storm surges can happen in areas directly along the coast, but even if you live inland, you still have to ready your home for the chance of flooding from rising rivers or rainfall. It wasn't a storm surge, but the latter two causes created the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Sadly, many people don't have adequate flood insurance. In Florida, only 42 percent of homes in coastal counties had flood insurance, and only 41 percent of those living in flood-hazard areas had flood insurance. Flood insurance is one way to protect your home and contents from flooding. It's not just the loss of materials when your home floods. You will need extensive work to mitigate mold growth and restore the home to a livable condition. A typical homeowner's insurance policy will not cover flooding, which is why a separate policy is so important.

Understanding the categories of flood warnings is vital for knowing what type of action to take. From watches to warnings, here are the kinds of events you may hear about on the news.

  • Flood warning: The weather service announces flood warnings when flooding is imminent or actively occurring. If you need to evacuate, do so when the warning is announced, if you can.
  • Flash flood watch: Flash flood watches give you notice of possibly dangerous flash flooding, which occurs when waters rise rapidly.
  • Flash flood warning: Like a flood warning, a flash flood warning means your area already is experiencing a flash flood or is about to.

Catalog all your essential possessions by taking photographs. These pictures will document what you had before the flood, making filling out an insurance claim easier.

If you have the funds and live in a flood-prone area, consider raising your home above flood level. You could remain high and dry when waters rise. Though it's a pricey option, this will save you from costly repairs in the future, especially if your home has flooded in the past. If you have a basement, verify your sump pump is in working condition and install a water alarm to alert you if your basement begins to fill with water. Make sure all drains and gutters are cleared of debris. Blocked drains can worsen flooding by causing water to back up onto your property.

Should you have to evacuate, move all your possessions to the highest place possible in your home to protect them if your house floods. Ideally, you should move things to an upper story if possible, but at least get everything off the floor. Store valuables in waterproof containers in safe locations.

If you live in an area with an evacuation order, leave as soon as possible to avoid getting trapped in your home. Turn off the gas and electricity when you leave. Take any necessities with you, such as spare clothes, prescriptions and backup batteries for your phones.

Before a flood emergency, whether from local storms or a hurricane, decide on a contact person and location for your family. Arrange to meet at the location or get word to the contact that you are safe. This arrangement will help you know your loved ones are safe even if the flooding prevents you from reaching each other. Move pets to a higher level of your home, or take them with you when you evacuate.

While you cannot move your home when flooding threatens, you can prevent damage to your valuables and protect your family.

 

How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Part of hurricane preparation includes preparing for the flooding that accompanies the storms, but you'll also need to ready your home for the wind damage. Board up your windows with plywood. Tape will not prevent the glass from breaking. Move any mobile objects you keep outside inside, including furnishings and trash cans. If you stay at home, have enough food, water, and prescriptions for everyone to last at least two weeks. After the storm passes, you will need to begin cleanup.

 

Post-Hurricane Hazards to Avoid

After the hurricane, the danger is not yet over. Fallen trees and downed power lines pose threats outside the home, but you also have a hazard inside if your home got water in it. Whether flood waters rose into your house or if a hole in the roof admitted rainwater, you need to remove everything that got wet and throw it away. Then, you'll need to test the air for signs of mold growth.

 

Mold Damage From Hurricane Flooding

The effects of hurricane flooding on a home include water seeping inside and soaking the walls and carpets. Because these components of your house are not designed to dry quickly, they are prime breeding grounds for mold and mildew. When removing wet materials from your home, you'll need to remember to pull out sheetrock at least to a point 12 inches above where the water reached. Though higher parts of the sheetrock may not have gotten wet, they could still draw moisture up from lower on the wall and grow mold.

Even if your home did not flood, excessive moisture from nearby flood waters could still have gotten into your home. To protect your family from mold growth, you'll need to test the air quality in your home as part of your post-hurricane cleanup.

 

How to Test for Mold After a Hurricane

How to test for mold after a hurricane

Does hurricane flooding cause mold? In many cases, the answer is yes. However, because moisture from a hurricane can seep deeply into your home's interior, you may not immediately see the source of the mold. You can still test for mold's presence in your home, though, with an air sample test. One of the most convenient and tried methods of detecting mold is the use of a spore trap. A volume of air is drawn through the cassette and mold spores are captured on the collection media. A laboratory will analyze and count the numbers and different species of mold spores on the collection media. The samples of the indoor test should be compared to the results of an outdoor sample. The Zefon Air-O-Cell is considered the gold standard of spore traps.

To complete an air sampling test, you need a pump that has the ability to pull 15 liters of air per minute. Our Zefon Z-Lite is compatible both with spore traps and carpet sampling. The Zefon Bio-Pump is an Air-O-Cell specific pump that is portable, and battery operated. You will also need the sampling cassettes for use with a pump, like the Air-O-Cell cassette, which are the parts that collect the samples. You send the cassettes to the lab after you've collected the data. Some states and insurance companies require testing to be performed by certified professions.

 

Air Sampling Equipment for Mold Analysis

To help you assess the risk of mold damage from flooding, we have a wide range of equipment. You can choose from complete mold sampling kits. All kits come with a pump and cassettes, but the deluxe and ultimate also include slides and mold swabs for collecting physical samples of mold.

For information about how to remove the contamination once you've discovered you have mold, we have a book that guides you through the process. The Fungal Contamination book is exceptionally detailed. It's a textbook for many mold remediation courses. This is the expert's tool for restoring a home from mold problems.

These are just some of the air sampling products we have. Not only can you find disposable samplers to help with detecting mold after flooding, but you can also get cassettes and other equipment to test for metals, asbestos and more.

 

Zefon's Air Sampling Equipment for Mold

Zefon's Air Sampling Services

Let us lend you a hand in finding the best equipment for detecting mold after flooding. Even long after the hurricane season has ended, floods can still happen, and your home can still get water inside it. Air quality tests aren't just for the hurricane season. Use them all year long to monitor the quality of the air in your home. Getting rid of mold makes your home a healthier place to live in while upholding the property's value. It's time to find and rid your home of mold contamination.

The first step to banishing mold is to identify the problem. At Zefon, we are an industry leader in air sampling, and we offer all the equipment you need to test for mold and other impurities or air contaminants. If you can't decide, check out our product line or sign up for our newsletter to learn more. We also appreciate the chance to assist you. Contact one of our experts to help you choose the right sampling gear for testing.

How to Account for Sampling Wall Losses

How-to-Account-for-Sampling-Wall-Losses

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Air Sampling Wall Losses?
  2. How Sampling Wall Loss Occurs in Cassettes
  3. Average Industry Sample Loss for Each Contaminant Type
  4. The Importance of Accounting for Wall Loss
  5. How to Account for Sampling Wall Losses
  6. How to Prevent Sampling Wall Loss

 

In the U.S., 37-mm cassettes are commonly used to collect aerosol samples. When collecting an aerosol sample, it's often the case that some of the material gathers on the wall of the cassette, rather than making its way to the filter. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) expects all particles that make their way into the sampler to be included in the measurement and analysis of the sample. That includes particles that find their way to the filter and particles that end up on the wall of the sampler.

Wall loss can disrupt the accuracy of the results from a sample, as it's possible that a considerable amount of the sample will end up on the sides of the cassette, rather than in the filter itself. Fortunately, there are ways to account for air sampling cassette wall losses.

 

What Are Air Sampling Wall Losses?

What-Are-Air-Sampling-Wall-Losses

During air sampling, a specific volume of air is collected, and the amount of a particular contaminant is measured in that volume of air. The goal of air sampling is to evaluate how much of a particular contaminant is in an environment and to assess how safe the atmosphere is for workers and others who will be exposed to the air.

Although there are multiple methods of collecting an air sample, one of the most commonly used processes involves pumping air through a filter at a specified rate. The flow rate lets you compare the volume of air sampled to the volume of any collected particles or contaminants.

In a perfect world, all of the particles being evaluated would travel to the filter of the air sampler, where they can be collected and analyzed. What often occurs is something known as wall loss.

Wall loss refers to the collection of particles on the inner surface of an air sampler cassette, rather than in the filter itself. One of the challenges of wall loss is that all of the particles collected during air sampling must be accounted for when the sample is analyzed and measured. If the particles that accumulate on the walls of the cassette aren't included in the sample itself, then the results won't give you an accurate idea of the level of contamination or the volume of particles in the air.

 

How Sampling Wall Loss Occurs in Cassettes

How-Sampling-Wall-Loss-Occurs-in-Cassettes

Wall loss can occur in cassettes as several points during the air sampling process. It can happen when the sample is being taken, after collection, when the sample is being transported from the collection site to the laboratory and when the sampler is handled by the technician who is analyzing it.

Among the causes of wall loss are:

  • Gravity
  • Particles "bouncing" from the filter to the inner walls of the cassettes
  • Particles settling on the wall rather than in the filter
  • Electrostatic attraction
  • Motions on the interior of the sampler
  • Movement of the sampler during shipping
  • Movement of the filter and sampler when a technician takes the cassette apart for testing

Wall loss might not seem like a significant issue, but multiple studies have shown that the volume of particles that can end up on the walls of a cassette can often be considerably higher than the number of particles that makes it into the filter. The studies have also demonstrated that there is considerable variation in the amount of dust and particles that collect on the walls of a cassette — anywhere from two percent to 100 percent.

Although gravity, movement and electrostatic can all interfere with the distribution of particles in an air sampler, those same forces are not likely to interfere when a person is breathing in the air that needs to be sampled. Since it is expected that a human would breathe in all the particles found in a given area, all of the particles collected during a sampling session need to be evaluated, whether they make it to the filter or collect on the walls of the cassette.

 

Average Industry Sample Loss for Each Contaminant Type

The average amount of sample loss varies considerably based on the type of contaminant and the location or work environment.

The maximum amount of wall deposits of lead from samples taken at copper smelting facilities was 55 percent. The median wall loss from those facilities was 21 percent.

Meanwhile, the maximum wall loss of a lead sample from a lead ore mill was 35 percent, and the median sample loss was 19 percent. A solder manufacturer had maximum wall deposits of 74 percent while the median rate was 29 percent. A facility that produces batteries had maximum wall deposits of 66 percent and median wall deposits of 28 percent.

Lead isn't the only particulate that air sampling tests for. Another potentially dangerous particulate is hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)). Cr(VI) is often used in plastics, inks, paints, and dyes as a pigment. Workers who perform "hot" tasks such as welding can be exposed to Cr(Vi) when they work with metals that contain chromium. More than half a million workers in the US can be exposed to Cr(VI) while going about their daily tasks.

Average wall loss of Cr(VI) depends on the activity. Welding activities have the highest maximum wall deposit rate, at 55 percent. The median rate for welding environments is five percent. The variation between maximum and median wall loss deposits is much smaller for paint spraying environments, where the maximum is 12 percent and the median is seven percent, and for electroplating environments, where the maximum is 17 percent and the median is 12 percent.

Sample loss rates for other contaminants include:

  • Zinc (zinc foundry): Max wall deposits: 62 percent, Median wall deposits: 53 percent
  • Zinc (zinc plating): Max wall deposits: 91 percent, Median wall deposits: 27 percent
  • Iron dust (cast iron foundry): Max wall deposits: 46 percent, Median wall deposits: 22 percent
  • Iron dust (grey iron foundry): Max wall deposits: 77 percent, Median wall deposits: 24 percent
  • Copper dust (Cuproberyllium foundry): Max wall deposits: 40 percent, Median wall deposits: 31 percent
  • Beryllium dust (Cuproberyllium foundry): Max wall deposits: 39 percent, Median wall deposits: 12 percent

 

The Importance of Accounting for Wall Loss

When collecting an air sample, accuracy is critical. If you don't use the right flow rate or the same flow rate each time, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate idea of how much of a particular contaminant is in an area and what a worker's risk of exposure to that contaminant is. Without a precise sample, there is no telling whether or not the air contains more than the recommended amount of particulates and whether or not workers are exceeding the recommended exposure limits during their shifts.

If you collect a sample from the air to test the amount of lead dust, and 40 percent of the lead dust taken from a given area ends up on the wall of the cassette, and there's no accounting for the cassette wall deposit, you aren't getting an accurate reading. Without an awareness of how much of a specific particulate or another contaminant — such as vapor — is in the air, workers may be exposed to dangerous levels of dust and other harmful substances.

Aside from protecting employees, there are other reasons to properly account for sampling loss. At this point, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), NIOSH, ASTM International and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) all have either voluntary or mandatory standards that stipulate that wall deposits need to be accounted for during the sampling and analysis of air.

 

How to Account for Sampling Wall Losses

How-to-Account-for-Sampling-Wall-Losses

There are several ways to account for wall deposits and to include the volume of those deposits in your analysis when air sampling. The methods vary and include practicing certain techniques when collecting the sample or using a specific type of cassette. Techniques that can potentially account for wall deposits include:

  • Wiping the interior of the cassette
  • Rinsing the cassette
  • Removing the sample directly inside of the cassette
  • Using a "self-contained" filter in the cassette

Although some techniques will add some or all of the wall deposits to the analyzed sample, they are far from "perfect" solutions to the problem. Several studies have reported that rinsing the walls of a cassette was an "inadequate" method of removing the wall deposits. Wiping the walls of the cassette is somewhat preferable, but still runs the risk of not fully collecting all of the deposits from the wall and might require multiple passes to collect enough of the deposit.

One study focused on the difference between wiping and rinsing the walls of a cassette to recover lead deposits. The researchers collected 54 samples at a lead processing and smelting plant. The samples were located at three separate locations at the plant and had an average sampling time of 460 minutes. The experiment lasted three days. Half of the samples were first rinsed, then wiped after collection and the other half were only wiped.

For both groups, an average of 74 percent of the lead was found in the filter of the cassettes. For the wipe-only group, an average of 21 percent of the lead was collected in the first wipe. For the rinse-then-wipe group, an average of 23 percent of the lead was collected by the rinse followed by the wipe.

 

How to Prevent Sampling Wall Loss

In some cases, it might be possible to prevent wall losses in sampling cassettes. One way to prevent sample loss is to design a cassette that eliminates the likelihood of deposits collecting on the inner wall of the sampler.

There are several ways to design a cassette that minimizes or eliminates wall loss. One option is to create a cassette that is conductive, which means that the amount of static electricity will be reduced. Conductive samplers tend to have considerably lower rates of loss compared to non-conductive samplers or samplers with low conductivity.

The shape of the cassette can also help to prevent sampling wall loss. For example, a cassette with smooth surfaces and a round shape is less likely to produce eddies and less likely to have loss compared to a sampler with corners. The size of the filter area can also significantly reduce or even prevent wall loss. A smaller overall filtration area means that there is a lower chance of particles ending up on the wall next to the filter, rather than on the filter itself.

All in all, using a cassette made from a conductive material, with a round, smooth shape and a small filtration area, helped to reduce wall losses significantly. A cassette with those three features had wall loss of around five percent, compared to cassettes without those features, which had wall losses as high as 30 percent.

Another way to significantly reduce or even prevent wall loss is to use a cassette with a self-contained filter capsule. The filter and cartridge are all one unit, so there is no "wall" for the particulate to collect on. Any material collected in the capsule is analyzed, providing an accurate idea of the volume and concentration of a particular substance in the air.

 

Why Zefon Air Sampling Equipment Is Best for Reducing Wall Loss

Sampling-Equipment-Is-Best-for-Reducing-Wall-Loss

During air sampling and analysis, it's essential that you evaluate the full sample. The Zefon Solu-Sert™ filter is a self-contained capsule that allows you to collect and analyze all the particles in a given area. The capsule is made up of a mixed cellulose ester (MCE) filter surrounded by a cellulose shell. The shell and filter capsule are placed into a Zefon filter cassette, along with a support pad.

Once a sample has been collected, the entire capsule is taken out of the cassette and sent for analysis. There's no need to remove the filter, then wipe down the walls of the cassette or rinse the cassette. Everything you've collected during the sampling period is contained within the capsule.

Analyzing the capsule involves placing it in an acid solution. The acid dissolves the cellulose, leaving the particulates behind to be measured.

Using a self-contained filter capsule offers multiple benefits when air sampling. For one thing, the capsule is likely to almost eliminate the risk of wall loss. A self-contained filter capsule is one of the methods recommended by the NIOSH for accounting for wall deposits. The filter can be used to analyze the following particulates:

  • Aluminum
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Tungsten
  • Zinc
  • Elements 7300, 7301, 7303

The Solu-Sert™ filter can also be a considerable time saver when it comes to assessing samples. Instead of having to rinse the walls of the cassette or wipe them down, then analyze the contents of the wipe, all a technician needs to do is analyze the contents of the capsule.

The materials used to create the filter also help to improve its accuracy. The filter capsule has a lightweight shell, which means that it produces lower background levels. Usually, the capsules exhibit background levels at or below detectable levels for 25 elements. When using a gravimetric analysis, or pre and post weighing of the filter, the Zefon Gravi-Sert™ is a PVC filter with a PVC capsule. The PVC material allows for better weight stability. Like the Solu-Sert™, the entire sample is collected within the capsule, thus providing the most accurate exposure levels.

When sampling for the inhalable particle fraction, the Zefon Disposable Inhalable Sampler (DIS) is the best choice for accounting for wall deposits. There are several variations of the sampler including cellulose for metals and PVC for gravimetric.

Accounting for wall deposits is crucial when collecting and measuring air samples. Although you have several options when it comes to accounting for wall loss, not all of those options are equal. The Solu-Sert™ filter offers the most accurate results and the greatest ease of use. To learn more about the Solu-Sert™, Gravi-Sert™ and DIS filter capsules and other air sampling products from Zefon, connect with a sales rep or locate a dealer near you today.

Disposable vs. Reusable Inhalable Samplers

Disposable vs Reusable Inhalable Sampler

 

Table of Contents

  1. What Is an Inhalable Air Sampler?
  2. Components and Application of Inhalable Air Samplers
  3. Contaminants Inhalable Air Samplers Can Detect
  4. Types of Inhalable Air Samplers
  5. Pros: Why Buy a Disposable Inhalable Air Sampler
  6. Cons: Why You Might Not Buy a Disposable Inhalable Air Sampler
  7. Pros: Why Buy a Reusable Inhalable Air Sampler
  8. Cons: Why You Might Not Buy a Reusable Inhalable Air Sampler

 

Despite what the adage claims, what people can't see can harm them. Outdoor and indoor air can be full of dust particles, gases or vapors can contribute to issues such as lung disease. When a person inhales something that is potentially harmful to their health, the process is known as inhalation exposure.

Inhalation exposure can lead to chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses. In the U.S., at least 15 percent of new asthma cases diagnosed in adults are the result of occupational exposure to inhaled particles and substances. Exposure to dust such as coal dust, asbestos, and silica dust on the job can lead to a condition known as pneumoconiosis. Symptoms of pneumoconiosis include shortness of breath, coughing, and low blood oxygen levels.

Occupational lung diseases can develop as a result of repeated, long-term exposure or following a single exposure to a high volume of a particular agent. Avoiding the particulates that contribute to lung diseases can prevent them from developing in the first place. Minimizing exposure can also help to reduce the risk of illness and reverse conditions such as asthma.

Testing the air in a work setting or other environment allows a worker to know types of particulate that are in the air. Disposable and reusable inhalable air samplers provide a way to test the air.

 

What Is an Inhalable Air Sampler?

An inhalable air sampler is a filter that is attached to a sampling head. The goal of an inhalable air sampler is to measure the dust, aerosols, and particulates a worker might be exposed to while on the job. The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), located in Scotland, developed a sampling head in the 1980s. The sampling head was designed to collect in the inhalable particle fraction or the mass fraction of total airborne particles which is inhaled through the nose or mouth. The inhalable air samplers developed and sold by Zefon International are based on the same design and replicate the features and collection efficiency of the samplers created by the IOM. Zefon air samplers are meant to be interchangeable with IOM samplers.

Inhalable air samplers are worn by the people using them. The sampling head clips to the front of a person's shirt, in the "breathing zone."

The inhalable sampler is attached to a personal pump by a length of flexible hose. Before the air sampler can be used, it needs to be calibrated, so that it takes in the appropriate volume of air per minute.

IOM inhalable air samplers have a recommended flow rate of two liters per minute (2 L/min) when used for personal sampling.

 

Components and Application of Inhalable Air Samplers

Components and Application

The inhalable sampler is made up of several parts, which differ based on whether the air sampler is reusable or disposable. Three components all inhalable air samplers have in common is the sampling head, cassette (top and bottom) and filter. The cassette contains a filter and is inserted to the sampling head.. A cap is put into place over the cassette inlet to keep unwanted debris from entering the cassette and getting onto the filter while in transport. The inhalable sampler also includes O-rings to make it leak-free.

Disposable inhalable air samplers include a pre-assembled cassette that has the filter sealed to it. The cassette, or now the filter capsule, rests on top of a cellulose pad. Both the pad and the filter capsule fit securely inside of the sampling head, which connects to the flexible tubing or hose.

An O-ring rests on top of the filter capsule, then the inlet is pressed and snapped in place. When the sampler is in storage or not in use, an inlet cap should be placed on the inlet to keep dust and particulates from getting into the filter.

The components found in reusable inhalable air samplers are slightly different, as the samplers are designed to be cleaned and used over and over again. Instead of a pre-assembled cassette or filter capsule, the sampling head is inserted with a cassette that is assembled just before sampling.

The cassette is made of two parts — the bottom, also known as the support grid, and the top, sometimes called the cassette front. When assembled, a filter is sandwiched between the bottom section and the top section of the cassette.

In some instances, the cassette might be preloaded brought to the site of testing in a transport clip. The clip slides on and off of the cassette and is meant to identify the cassette when it is sent to the laboratory for testing. The cassette will also most likely have a rubber cap that attaches to the front. The cap seals off the cartridge, keeping air away from the filter when it is not actively sampling.

Although the components found in disposable and reusable inhalable air samplers are slightly different, the method of using them and the process of calibrating them is the same.

To calibrate an inhalable air sampler, you use a calibration adapter. To set up the device, you place the air sampler into the adapter, securing it in place with the thumbscrew. Next, you connect an outlet port on the sampler to the corresponding fitting on the pump, using some flexible tubing. Another length of tubing is connected to the barb on the adapter and the corresponding outlet on the calibrator.

To start the process of calibrating, turn on the pump. Adjust the air flow of the pump until you get the desired reading on the calibrator. Usually, the desired flow rate is 2 L/min when using an inhalable air sampler.

The various applications for an inhalable air sampler include:

  • ISO/CEN for bioaerosols
  • NIOSH Method 5700 for particulate formaldehyde
  • British Method MDHS 14/4 for sampling and gravimetric analysis of respirable, inhalable and thoracic aerosols
  • British Method MDHS 14/3 for inhalable dust
  • British Method MDHS 25/3 for organic isocyanates
  • British Method MDHS 6/3 for lead
  • ACGIH definition of inhalable particulate matter
  • Australian standard for inhalable particulate

 

Contaminants Inhalable Air Samplers Can Detect

Contaminants Inhalable Air Samplers Can Detect

Air can contain one or more of three different types of contaminant. Those contaminants are:

  • Vapors
  • Gases
  • Particulates

Vapors are gases that are condensable, meaning they are usually liquids or solids at room temperature and under normal pressure. When they are heated or when the pressure around them changes, they turn into gas. Gases don't condensate, meaning they remain in their gaseous form at room temperature. In the air, vapors that can be a cause for concern include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mercury and some pesticides.

Although there are other methods of detecting vapor or gas contamination, inhalable air samplers exclusively measure the third type of contaminant, particulates. Particulates are tiny solid or liquid matter suspended in the air. Some particulates are big enough to see while others are so small they can only be viewed under an electron microscope.

The Environmental Protection Agency divides particulate matter (PM) into two categories based on size — PM10 and PM2.5. PM10 particles usually have a diameter under 10 micrometers (1 micrometer is 1/1000 of a millimeter). PM2.5 particles have a diameter under 2.5 micrometers.

Particulate matter not only differs when it comes to size. There are also considerable differences in the source of the material and how it is composed. What all types of particulate matter have in common is that exposure to the particles can cause significant health issues.

Inhalable air samplers can measure and detect five types of particulate matter:

  • Mists: Mists are typically a collection of liquid droplets in the air. Usually, mist is visible to the human eye.
  • Aerosols: Aerosols are tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in a gas.
  • Fumes: When a solid material is heated until it turns into a gas, then cooled again, it can produce fumes.
  • Smoke: Smoke particles develop when something does not thoroughly burn or combust. Usually, smoke is made of carbon particles.
  • Dust: Dust is made up of small particles that are suspended in the air temporarily. Dust comes from a variety of sources, including dirt, wood and human skin. Sanding wood, tracking dirt in from outdoors or exfoliating the skin are all factors that can contribute to dust.

 

Types of Inhalable Air Samplers

The two main types of inhalable air samplers are disposable air samplers and reusable air samplers. With a reusable sampler, you can reuse the cassette repeatedly. Between uses, it's essential to clean the components of the air sampler so to avoid cross-contamination.

There are two ways to clean a reusable air sampler. After taking the sampler apart, you can clean the pieces with a solvent such as rubbing alcohol, then dry it with a lint-free cloth. The second option is to take apart the sampler and place the components in an ultrasonic cleaning device that uses soap and water.

With a disposable air sampler, each cassette is designed for one-time use, eliminating the need for cleaning.

Should you use a disposable or a reusable inhalable air sampler? Each option has its benefits as well as drawbacks. Whether the benefits of a disposable inhalable sampler outweigh the benefits of a reusable inhalable sampler comes down to your preferences and opinion.

 

Pros: Why Buy a Disposable Inhalable Air Sampler

Compared to a reloadable sampler, a disposable model offers a few benefits.

One primary benefit of a disposable inhalable air sampler is that the cassettes are pre-loaded. Not only does that save you time, as you don't have to put the pieces together yourself, it can also reduce the chance for error or contamination. When you assemble a cassette, it's essential that you do so in a clean environment while wearing gloves. If you neglect to put on a pair of clean gloves or if the area you are working in isn't entirely clean, contaminants can get on the filter or cassette, interfering with the effectiveness of the sampler. Reversely, the user reduces the chance of contamination after sampling is complete. These is no disassembly of the sampler. Simply put the inlet cap back into the transport position.

Disposable Inhalable Air Sampler

Disposable samplers also weigh less than reusable models, which means that you are likely to get more sensitive results and improved accuracy.

For metals testing, the entire filter capsule can be digested. This accounts for wall deposits and gives accurate exposure readings. The reusable sampler requires wiping the interior walls of the cassette to get an accurate result.

 

Cons: Why You Might Not Buy a Disposable Inhalable Air Sampler

If you are taking thousands of samples per year and have the expertise of proper handling and controls, a reusable sampler could be a better option.

 

Pros: Why Buy a Reusable Inhalable Air Sampler

Why Buy a Reusable Inhalable Air Sampler

Perhaps the most significant benefit of a reusable inhalable air sampler is that you can reuse it. Depending on your sampling needs, being able to reuse the sampler itself can save time and money, as you can pre-assemble cassettes and swap them out as needed after testing the air. If you are going to reuse the sampler body with multiple cassettes, it is important to remember to wear clean gloves when handling the cassettes and to don a new pair of gloves before handling each one.

 

Cons: Why You Might Not Buy a Reusable Inhalable Air Sampler

One drawback of using reusable air samplers is that they do require a bit more care and attention compared to their disposable counterparts. For example, the cassettes that you use with a reusable sampler typically come with a transport clip. It's essential that you not lose the clip. Otherwise, there won't be a way for you to send the cassette to the lab for testing.

If the clip has a barcode on it, it's vital that you match up the correct cassette with the right clip when shipping your cassettes off for testing. If the clips get mixed up, the results you get might be inaccurate.

Since you need to assemble the cassettes yourself, there's a slight chance that a mistake will occur and the wrong cassette front will be matched to the wrong filter or back. While you can avoid assembly mistakes by exercising caution, there is still the risk of error, which is eliminated with the pre-assembled cassettes that come with a disposable sampler.

There is also the cost and care involved in cleaning. A technician that does not use proper care and technique while decontaminating can leave particulate in the cassette. This will give inaccurate exposure levels during analysis. There is expense involved with proper cleaning.

 

Why Buy Zefon Inhalable Air Samplers

Zefon International offers both disposable and reusable inhalable air samplers. Our samplers are replicas of the ones developed by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Scotland. Our reusable air samplers are interchangeable with the ones produced by IOM while our disposable models are developed with similar criteria. The critical difference is that our disposable samplers aren't designed for reuse.

We stand behind our inhalable air samplers and promise that they will be free of defects and ready to provide you with accurate samples anytime you need them.

 

The Zefon International Air Equipment Difference

he Zefon International Air Equipment Difference

Whether you are in the market for a reusable air sampler, a disposable air sampler or are considering both, Zefon International aims to meet your need. We pride ourselves on being different from the rest and on making sure our customers have the best possible experience, both when interacting with us and when using our products.

We offer the largest selection of air sampling products so you can find the tool you need in our catalog. We also aim to offer our products at the best possible price to our customers, which means you not only get an air sampler you can depend on, you get one at a price that works with your budget.

Finally, we put customer service first. Should you have a question about a product or need assistance choosing the right air sampling equipment, we're here to help.

Browse our product catalog and discover the Zefon International Air Equipment difference for yourself today.

Do Wild Fires Affect Air Quality?

do wild fires affect air quality

 

Table of Contents

  1. How and Where Wildfires Occur
  2. The Environmental Effect of Wildfires
  3. The Positive Effects
  4. The Negative Effects
  5. How To Stay Safe From a Wildfire
  6. Post-Wildfire Protection Tips
  7. Testing Air Quality After a Wildfire
  8. Air Sampling Equipment to Use After a Wildfire

 

Across the United States, approximately 73,200 wildfires burn over 6.9 million acres every year.

As of November 30, 2018, 52,303 wildfires have blazed over 8.54 million acres, and more are reported every day — from California to Maine, the number of wildfires appears to increase every year. Thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters and emergency responders, most wildfires are quickly controlled. But what are their long-term impacts on our environment, including our air quality?

Wildfires are a natural occurrence, and they provide many benefits for an ecosystem. However, they also come with a list of negative impacts, including damaging the quality of your air.

 

How and Where Wildfires Occur

Also called a forest fire, vegetation fire, grass fire, peat fire or a hill fire, wildfires are a common occurrence in many areas of the country.

Not every fire is considered a wildfire. According to the National Wildlife Coordinating Group, a wildfire is an unwanted and unplanned wildland fire, and it includes the following categories:

  • Unauthorized, human-caused wildland fires: Humans cause more than four out of every five wildfires — according to a NASA study, up to 84 percent of all wildfires are a result of human carelessness. Since the 1940s, wildlife experts have used campaigns like Smokey Bear to urge guests to be cautious in nature. A spark from a campfire, a cigarette tossed out a window or a stray firework could all lead to a wildfire under the right conditions. Sometimes, human-caused fires are set intentionally as an act of arson, but these are much rarer than accidental fires.
  • Escaped prescribed wildland fires: Wildlife officers will sometimes schedule a prescribed burn for a certain area. Many prescribed fires, also called controlled burns, are set every year to rejuvenate land and return it to a thriving state — controlled burning has a long history of positively impacting wildland. However, if these prescribed burns escape control, they are considered a dangerous wildfire.
  • Escaped naturally caused wildland fires: Naturally occurring wildfires can be caused by a variety of incidents, including lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions. Under the right conditions, hot winds or even direct sunlight can be enough to start a blaze. When natural wildfires occur on wildland, wildlife officers will often let it burn in a controlled, monitored manner. However, if it looks like it will threaten human habitation, federal firefighting teams will begin to put it out.
  • Other wildland fires: Fires can begin for other reasons, and they are considered wildfires if they threaten human communities or the environment.

For a wildfire to occur, the conditions have to be just right. Droughts, heat waves and other cyclical climate changes can dramatically increase the chance of a wildfire — if a field or forest is dry due to a months-long drought, it will catch fire easily and spread quickly. Additionally, if high winds are present, the breeze can pick up sparks and spread the fire even faster.

A wildfire needs three conditions to burn — fuel, oxygen and a source of heat. Together, firefighters refer to these conditions as the fuel triangle. In the triangle, fuel refers to any flammable material close to a fire — brush, grass, trees, crops or buildings could all feed a wildfire. Generally, the greater an area's fuel supply, the more intense of a wildfire it can support.

Wildfires fall into three broad categories based on where they burn in an environment — surface, crown and ground fires.

  • Surface fires: The most common type of wildfire, surface fires tend to move slowly and burn the forest floor, damaging and killing all low-lying vegetation.
  • Crown fires: Crown fires are spread by wind and move quickly along the tops, or the crowns, of trees. These types of wildfires are especially damaging to woodlands.
  • Ground fires: A lightning strike to grassland or a forest often starts ground fires. The lightning ignites underground coal, peat or root systems and spreads, often burning through to the surface and becoming surface fires.

Wildfires can begin anywhere. However, they are most common in forested or vegetated regions such as grasslands or scrublands. These areas receive enough moisture to support foliage growth, but they also experience extended dry, hot periods that leave plant material vulnerable to fire. Wildfires are especially common during summer, autumn and early winter months when fallen leaves and branches tend to dry out and become flammable.

 

The Environmental Effect of Wildfires

As earth temperatures rise and urban expansion extends into wooded or wild areas, we are more likely than ever to feel the impacts of wildfires. However, not every effect of a wildfire is negative — wildfires can create positive conditions as well.

the environmental effects

 

The Positive Effects

For the environment, wildfires aren't always tragic — some ecosystems depend on regular fires for regeneration, reproduction and germination. A wildfire clears away brush and dead foliage, leaving behind new growing space and fresh, fertilized soil. Some species of pine trees only reproduce in the presence of extreme heat, and without wildfires, they would gradually go extinct.

For the environment, a wildfire can have the following positive effects:

  • Clears away dead or overgrown foliage: Over time, a forest floor gets cluttered with shrub growth and the accumulation of dead trees and plants. Because so much space is taken up by undergrowth, new plants are unable to thrive in the ecosystem. A wildfire clears out any low-standing plant life, clearing the way for new, abundant growth. Many ecosystems rely on this periodic cleansing to remain healthy — fire acts as a kind of disinfectant, removing harmful insects and diseased plants from the ecosystem.
  • Fertilizes soil: As a wildfire turns dead and decaying plant matter to ash, it releases nutrients into the soil. This is why so many wildflowers bloom after a wildfire has died out — the sudden influx of nutrients is conducive to new growth.
  • Helps seeds germinate: Some species of plants and trees need wildfires to thrive — they can only successfully reproduce in the presence of intense heat. Some examples of fire-adapted plants include lodgepole pine, Jack pine, hickory pine, redberry and eucalyptus. When exposed to a fire, the seeds of these plants can open or germinate, spreading new life after a wildfire.
  • Revitalizes the watershed: By cycling nutrients, replenishing stream-bank vegetation, increasing food sources for fish and dispersing fire-adapted plants, wildfires can revitalize watershed environments.

Although most people associate wildfires with danger or destruction, they are a vital part of the ecosystem and provide many benefits for natural environments.

 

The Negative Effects

But a wildfire can cause damage, as well. When a naturally occurring wildfire swells and reaches out-of-control proportions, it can threaten human property and communities

  • Hurts air quality: A wildfire releases substantial levels of pollutants into the air, including vast quantities of smoke. This smoke consists of partly consumed fuel, ash particulates, invisible gases and liquid droplets. While brief exposure to smoke does not create long-term damage, high smoke concentrations can lead to health complications, especially for those with respiratory issues or illnesses. Some effects of prolonged smoke exposure include impaired judgment and alertness, the development of chronic illness and asthma triggers.
  • Damages soil: Although a wildfire can release vital nutrients into the soil, it can also damage the delicate soil balance — by burning away the protective litter layer, the soil is vulnerable to erosion. The heat of intense wildfires can also change the soil composition, making it resistant to water and prone to aridity.
  • Injures or kills plant life: No matter the type of fire, a wildfire harms plant life. While this is sometimes needed for the health of the ecosystem, a wildfire doesn't discriminate between plants — it destroys everything in its path, even if the plant was endangered, beneficial or ancient.
  • Increases runoff: After a fire, the soil is often unable to absorb water for some time. Any rainfall or water becomes runoff, flooding lakes, streams and rivers with sediment and debris. Areas affected by wildfires are often vulnerable to flash flooding once the fire has been extinguished.

Wildfires carry both positive and negative effects for the environment, and every area is impacted differently depending on the location and intensity of the fire.

 

How To Stay Safe From a Wildfire

As a property manager or homeowner, you can take steps to reduce the potential of damage before a wildfire hits your property. One of the most important precautions is to limit any fuel sources around your business or home.

Clear away any combustible materials from within 30 feet of your buildings — these include dried leaves, pine needles, vines and dead or dry vegetation. Between 30 and 100 feet away from buildings, make sure your property has "fuel breaks" such as driveways, sidewalks or gravel pathways. Pavement or stones are a non-flammable surface, and they help to keep the fire from spilling onto your property.

If your area is in the path of a wildfire, the most important thing is not to panic. Today, firefighting responders use expert techniques and strategies to suppress a fire quickly. While first responders control the blaze, follow these steps to stay safe during a wildfire:

  1. If you are advised to evacuate your home or location, leave as soon as possible.
  2. Wear protective clothing and closed-toe shoes. Protect yourself from smoke and limit any time spent outdoors.
  3. Lock doors, windows and any remaining vehicles.
  4. Close all windows and doors to reduce heat and prevent drafts from entering your home, and make sure to shut off natural gas from its source.
  5. Turn on all the lights on your property to help firefighters easily see it through dense smoke.
  6. Tell someone that you have evacuated and where you are planning to go.
  7. Choose a safe route of evacuation, far-removed from fire hazards. As you travel, check your local weather channel for information on the speed and direction of fire and smoke — if the fire appears to change direction and head towards you, choose an alternate route.
  8. During the fire, stay informed about the status of the wildfire. Pay special attention to local weather forecasts, particularly any that could affect the fire conditions.

Don't return to your home prematurely — keep away from your property until officials declare that it is safe to access.

 

Post-Wildfire Protection Tips

post wildfire

Even after firefighters have put out a wildfire, your property could remain dangerous. Don't return to your home or business until officials declare it safe — even after a fire has been put out, small blazes can flare up unexpectedly.

Beyond small residual fires, the larger effects of a wildfire linger well after the flames are put out. A few of the post-wildfire dangers include:

  • Road instability: Drive carefully in areas affected by wildfires — the intense heat can damage and weaken roads, making them more prone to surface erosion.
  • Flash flooding: Keep an eye on your local weather forecast for flash flood warnings, and create a flooding emergency plan for you and your family.
  • Structural damage: Most structures and buildings damaged by fire are unstable. Don't enter any building until emergency officials have examined it.
  • Unstable trees and power poles: After a wildfire, use caution around power poles, trees and any other tall objects that could have lost stability from burn damage.
  • Contaminated water systems: A wildfire often damages water lines and systems. Don't drink or use any water from the faucet until your water system has been cleared by emergency officials.

Before you begin any cleanup efforts, make sure to take pictures of the damage to your property to send to your insurance carrier.

 

Testing Air Quality After a Wildfire

 testing air quality

In the wake of a wildfire, smoke, ash and toxins remain in the air. Even if the fire did not damage a building, cleaning efforts around the area disturb soot and ash, sending fresh clouds of particulate matter and gaseous chemicals into the air.

Additionally, once a fire begins to spread through an urban setting, the smoke becomes more hazardous to human health. Instead of just burning plant matter, the air is now filled with the synthetic and chemical compounds released as fire burned away manufactured objects and materials.

The effects of poor air quality vary from person to person, but common complications include:

  • Asthma triggers
  • Inflammation
  • Acute irritation
  • Immune system suppression
  • Reduced lung capacity

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to determine what hazardous compounds, if any, are in your air. If you are concerned about the state of your air, consider testing your air quality. An air test could determine whether the following fire-related pollutants are present in your air:

  • Smoke particles and residue
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Methane
  • Acetic acid
  • Formaldehyde
  • Heavy metals

Testing your air quality after a wildfire helps you know what toxins are present in your home. Once you know the types and levels of contaminants in your air, you can begin accurate cleaning or filtration, quickly restoring your air to its previous condition.

 

Air Sampling Equipment to Use After a Wildfire

wildfire air sampling

You can purchase a variety of air sampling equipment in the wake of a wildfire. The most common way to sample air quality is through an air sampling pump that is collecting airborne particulate onto a filter media. 

Sophisticated and reliable, air sampling pumps and media are an effective method of sampling air quality. When air sampling pumps are paired with the appropriate filter, they help technicians and industry experts analyze for a wide variety of hazardous compounds, including airborne particulates, metals and asbestos fibers. Pumps come in large area-scale models or smaller personal sizes for optimal personal exposure assessment. 

Another product that is widely used in the determination of wildfire origin is the Zefon Bio-Tape™. Taking a surface sample with the Zefon Bio-Tape™ provides a standardized sampling method and can be used to identify the origin of wildfire damage to a home. The sample lifted from the surface is analyzed for microbial, bioaerosol and inorganic dust contamination within the home. 

When it comes to air quality, don't leave anything to chance. Professionals from a range of industries choose Zefon International products to safely and quickly collect samples of air quality. 

At Zefon International, we take your health and safety seriously. We are industry-leading manufacturers and a long-standing partner with air quality experts, and we offer the highest quality products and customer service.

We are the professional choice for air sampling equipment — browse our products or contact us, and let us help you test your air quality today.

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