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LAB SAFETY I enjoyed Kay Bechtold’s article “Safety Test: What’s Behind the Rash of Accidents in Academic Labs?” [August issue]. The Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI) believes that one of the major reasons the culture of safety in academia lags behind standards of best practice is that institutions are unwilling to clearly state and enforce consequences for failure to obey rules and follow policies.
Institutions show no such reluctance in other areas. For example, if you look at the publicly available policy for abuse or misuse of IT resources at almost any institution of higher education in the United States, the consequences are clear: disciplinary action up to and including termination (faculty) or expulsion (students), and civil and/or criminal prosecution. Why is this so seemingly difficult when it comes to protecting health, safety, and the environment? 
If rules and policies are not in writing, you don’t have rules and policies. You have an oral tradition. If rules and policies are not enforced, you don’t have rules and policies; you have lip-service.
James A. Kaufman President/CEO, The Laboratory Safety Institute WHOLE AIR SAMPLING The article on whole air sampling [an interview with Steve Luecke in the June/July issue], while containing valuable information, also contained some statements that are misleading. Most labs run whole air samples by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS). The systems can be integrated to gas chromatographs with other detectors, but you lose the mass spectrometer confirmation of the analytes present. When using other detectors for industrial hygiene sampling, you will get only one or two analysis runs per sample, which limits your ability to use other columns and detectors to gain better separation after an initial run. A mass spec gives you the ability to identify co-eluting analytes and analytes where a standard has not been run. In the hands of a skilled operator, quantitation of the co-eluting peaks is possible.
According to the article, “with whole air sampling you don’t need to know what you are looking for. You just collect the air and look for anything.” Well, not exactly. Particulates and metals do not work. Part of the analysis freezes out the water vapor, so analytes that are highly soluble in water (alcohols, aldehydes) are lost to varying degrees in this process. Semi-volatiles don’t work well because they do not come out of the can or you get data that is biased low. Amines don’t work well, either—again, the data is biased low or they are lost to the can. Derek Popp Steve Luecke responds: The article was an edited transcript of a live podcast recording, and my statements were not pre-scripted. Absolute language such as “you just collect the air and look for anything” should be avoided, and I agree with Derek Popp that this was poorly stated. But it remains that a key advantage of whole air sampling for IH applications is the ability to analyze a single air sample for the presence of hundreds of unknown compounds at ppb levels, and it remains that you do not need to list target compounds to screen for. This dramatically distinguishes whole air sampling from traditional IH air sampling methods. Different methods can be selected to include large families or groups of chemicals that may be analyzed in a single sample, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or sulfur compounds.
Certainly, users need to understand the fundamental limitations of select methods, such as sample volume, and it is always best to consult your laboratory to have these discussions. EPA TO-15 includes the analysis and reporting of many water soluble VOCs. While the EPA method discusses concerns related to water-soluble VOC losses and other limitations, this is clearly past the intended scope of my short discussion on the topic. This discussion was based around airborne gases, which may not have been clear. For more information, see my Synergist Solutions article at, which specifies whole air sampling as a poor choice for particles and biological agents. Steve Luecke Industrial Hygiene Manager, Nextteq
Lab Safety and Whole Air Sampling: Readers Respond
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