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Air Monitoring

Published on Nov 30, 2023


Airborne contaminants can present a significant threat to worker health and safety. Thus, identification and quantification of these contaminants through air monitoring is an essential component of a health and safety program at a hazardous waste site. Reliable measurements of airborne contaminants are useful for:

· Selecting personal protective equipment.

· Delineating areas where protection is needed.

· Assessing the potential health effects of exposure

· Determining the need for specific medical monitoring.

Measuring Instruments

The purpose of air monitoring is to identify and quantify airborne contaminants in order to determine the level of worker protection needed. Initial screening for identification is often qualitative, i.e., the contaminant, or the class to which it belongs, is demonstrated to be present but the determination of its concentration (quantification) must await subsequent testing. Two principal approaches are available for identifying and/or quantifying airborne contaminants:

· The onsite use of direct-reading instruments.

· Laboratory analysis of air samples obtained by gas sampling beg, filter, sorbent, or wetcontaminant collection methods.

Monitoring for IDLH and Other Dangerous Conditions

As a first step, air monitoring should be conducted to identify any IDLH and other dangerous conditions, such as flammable or explosive atmospheres, oxygen-deficient environments, and highly toxic levels of airborne contaminants. Direct-reading monitoring instruments will normally include combustible gas indicators, oxygen meters, colorimetric indicator tubes, and organic vapor monitors. Other monitoring instruments may be necessary based on the initial site characterization. When time permits, air samples should be collected for laboratory analysis. Extreme caution should be exercised in continuing a site survey when atmospheric hazards are indicated. Monitoring personnel should be aware that conditions can suddenly change from nonhazardous to hazardous.

Acutely hazardous concentrations of chemicals may persist in confined and low-lying spaces for long periods of time. Look for any natural or artificial barriers, such as hills, tall buildings, or tanks, behind which air might be still, allowing concentrations to build up. Examine any confined spaces such as cargo holds, mine shafts, silos, storage tanks, box cars, buildings, bulk tanks, and sumps where chemical exposures capable of causing acute health effects are likely to accumulate. Low-lying areas, such as hollows and trenches, are also suspect. Monitor these spaces for IDLH and other dangerous conditions. Also consider whether the suspected contaminants are lighter or heavier than air. Then, based on the type of contaminants present, consider sampling on hilltops, under any cover or canopy where workers might work or congregate, and in trenches and low-lying areas.

Direct-Reading Instruments

Direct-reading instruments were developed as early warning devices for use in industrial settings, where a leak or an accident could release a high concentration of a known chemical into the ambient atmosphere. Today, some direct-reading instruments can detect contaminants in concentrations down to one part contaminant per million parts of air (ppm), although quantitative data are difficult to obtain when multiple contaminants are present. Unlike air sampling devices, which are used to collect samples for subsequent analysis in a laboratory, direct reading instruments provide information at the time of sampling, enabling rapid decision-making.

Direct-reading instruments may be used to rapidly detect flammable or explosive atmospheres, oxygen deficiency, certain gases and vapors, and ionizing radiation. They are the primary tools of initial site characterization. The information provided by direct-reading instruments can be used to institute appropriate protective measures (e.g., personal protective equipment, evacuation), to determine the most appropriate equipment for further monitoring, and to develop optimum sampling and analytical protocols.

All direct-reading instruments have inherent constraints in their ability to detect hazards:

· They usually detect and/or measure only specific classes of chemicals.

· Generally, they are not designed to measure and/or detect airborne concentrations below 1 ppm.

· Many of the direct-reading instruments that have been designed to detect one particular substance also detect other substances (interference) and, consequently, may give false readings.

It is imperative that direct-reading instruments be operated, and their data interpreted, by qualified individuals who are thoroughly familiar with the particular device's operating principles and limitations and who have obtained the device's latest operating instructions and calibration curves. At hazardous waste sites, where unknown and multiple contaminants are the rule rather than the exception, instrument readings should be interpreted conservatively.

The following guidelines may facilitate accurate recording and interpretation:

· Calibrate instruments according to the manufacturer's instructions before and after every use.

· Develop chemical response curves if these are not provided by the instrument manufacturer.

· Remember that the instrument's readings have limited value where contaminants are unknown. When recording readings of unknown contaminants, report them as "needle deflection" or "positive instrument response" rather than specific concentrations (i.e., ppm). Conduct additional monitoring at any location where a positive response occurs.

· A reading of zero should be reported as "no instrument response" rather than "clean" because quantities of chemicals may be present that are not detectable by the instrument.

· The survey should be repeated with several detection systems to maximize the number of chemicals detected. Tables 7-1 and 7-2 list several direct-reading instruments and the conditions and/or substances they measure.

The flame ionization detector (FID) and the photoionization detector (PID) are commonly used at hazardous waste sites. However, some of these devices may not detect some particularly toxic agents, including hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide. Thus, these devices must be supplemented with other methods of detection.

Laboratory Analysis

Direct-reading personal monitors are available for only a few specific substances and are rarely sensitive enough to measure the minute (i.e., parts of contaminant per billion parts of air) quantities of contaminants which may, nevertheless induce health changes. Thus to detect relatively low-level concentrations of contaminants, long-term or "full-shift" personal air samples must be analyzed in a laboratory. Full-shift air samples for some chemicals may be collected with passive dosimeters, or by means of a pump which draws air through a filter or sorbent. Table 7-3 lists some sampling and analytical techniques used at hazardous waste sites. Selection of the appropriate sampling media largely depends on the physical state of the contaminants. For example, chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PNAs (polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons) occur as both vapors and particulate-bound contaminants.

A dual-media system is needed to measure both forms of these substances. The volatile component is collected on a solid adsorbent and the nonvolatile component is collected on a filter. More than two dozen dual-media sampling techniques have been evaluated by NIOSH [l,2]. A major disadvantage of long-term air monitoring is the time required to obtain data. The time lag between sampling and obtaining the analysis results may be a matter of hours, if an onsite laboratory is available, or days, weeks, even months, if a remote laboratory is involved. This can be significant problem if the situation requires immediate decisions concerning worker safety. Also, by the time samples are returned from a remote laboratory, the hazardous waste site cleanup may have progressed to a different stage or to a location at which different contaminants or different concentrations may exist.

Careful planning and/or the use of a mobile laboratory on site may alleviate these problems. Mobile laboratories may be brought on site to classify hazardous wastes for disposal. A mobile laboratory is generally a trailer truck that houses analytical instruments capable of rapidly classifying contaminants by a variety of techniques. Typical instruments include gas chromatographs, spectrofluorometers, and infrared spectrophotometers. When not in use in the mobile laboratory, these devices can be relocated to fixed-base facilities.

Onsite laboratory facilities and practices should meet standards of good laboratory safety. Usually, a few of the field samples collected are analyzed on site to provide rapid estimates of the concentration of airborne contaminants. These data can be used to determine the initial level of worker personal protection necessary to modify field sampling procedures and to guide the fixedbase laboratory analysis. If necessary, samples screened in the mobile laboratory can be subsequently reanalyzed in sophisticated fixed-base laboratories. The mobile laboratory also provides storage space, countertop staging areas for industrial hygiene equipment, and facilities for recharging self-contained breathing apparatus.

General Onsite Monitoring

Air sampling should be conducted using a variety of media to identify the major classes of airborne contaminants and their concentrations. The following sampling pattern can be used as a guideline. First, after visually identifying the sources of possible generation, collect air samples downwind from the designated source along the axis of the wind direction. Work upwind, until reaching or getting as close as possible to the source. Level B protection (see Table 8-6 in Chapter 8) should be worn during this initial sampling. Levels of protection for subsequent sampling should be based upon the results obtained and the potential for an unexpected release of chemicals.

After reaching the source, or finding the highest concentration, sample cross-axis of the wind direction to determine the degree of dispersion. Smoke plumes, or plumes of instrumentdetectable airborne substances, may be released as an aid in this assessment. To ensure that there is no background interference and that the detected substance(s) are originating at the identified source, also collect air samples upwind of the source.

Perimeter Monitoring

Fixed-location monitoring at the "fenceline" or perimeter, where personal protective equipment is no longer required, measures contaminant migration away from the site and enables the Site Safety Officer to evaluate the integrity of the site's clean areas. Since the fixed-location samples may reflect exposures either upwind or downwind from the site, wind speed and direction data are needed to interpret the sample results.

Periodic Monitoring

Site conditions and thus atmospheric chemical conditions may change following the initial characterization. For this reason, monitoring should be repeated periodically, especially when:

· Work begins on a different portion of the site.

· Different contaminants are being handled.

· A markedly different type of operation is initiated (e.g., barrel opening as opposed to exploratory well drilling).

· Workers are handling leaking drums or working in areas with obvious liquid contamination (e.g., a spill or lagoon).

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