Guide to Air Sampling, Air Monitoring and Industrial Hygiene Engineering--Introduction and Contents

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Many have endeavored to make our outdoor environment cleaner and safer. The learning process that occurred showed us the limitations of our planet and also the sustainability of our ecosystem if given a chance. As a community, we learned about the water, the soil, and the air. We learned about the underground river that flowed to the surface lake. We learned about air currents that transported airstreams around our globe. We discovered the reality of plate tectonics and the ever-changing hydrogeological system. Using this knowledge, we continued to learn how to clean our environment and prevent further damage.

above: Multi-Gas Detector, 5 Gas, -4 to 122F, LCD

Our science careers began with teaching and working on environmental issues. During that time our concern for 1 ppm benzene at an underground storage tank (UST) location was intense. Then as we learned more, we began to see what had been invisible to us before-the air in our factories, hospitals, schools, homes, and cars. We began to realize that environmental concerns and our accumulated knowledge on how to protect people and the environment was not being translated into knowledge about buildings in which people live and work. Many people routinely work in factories where exposure to hundreds of parts per million of benzene is commonplace.

15 years ago we received a call from a farm family in the Northwest U.S. For three generations they had farmed their land. Now their children, their farm animals, and they them selves were sick. A chemical storage fire had burned out of control and covered their land and homes with oily soot. Yet that spring they planted their fields and tried to live their lives as before.

above: GilAir pump for air sampling. (from Sensidyne)

As the planting season progressed, farmers sickened in the fields. Upon returning to their homes, the sickness increased. The vehicles they used in the field became more and more contaminated. The farmers began buying old cars and abandoning them when they could ride in them no longer. Two combines were also abandoned. They left their homes, in some cases the original farm homesteads that had housed three generations.

Planting was over and the hogs were farrowing. The animals were born deformed; the mother animals died. Eventually most of the animals sickened and were sacrificed. The farmers began looking for answers.

above: Personal Air Sampling Pump from GilAir/Gilian.

Fall approached and with that the harvest. The farmers reentered the fields and became increasingly sick. What to do? Should they even harvest these crops? Should their children be sent away? Winter came-was it all in their imagination? The doctors and scientists they had contacted were without answers. Perhaps it would be better in the spring.

Spring arrived, planting began, and the cycle continued. From somewhere, they were given our name. We arrived and began investigating. These farmers and their families had not benefited at that time from the collective knowledge available pertaining to fires and chemical dispersion. Particulates laced with chemicals can exit the periphery of a firestorm.

The chemicals could remain intact or even recombine. Many chemicals can remain in our soil and water; after plowing with combines, these chemicals reenter the airstream and become available once again for us to breathe and carry home on our clothing.

These farmers were carrying home the vestiges of chemicals we use as pesticides and herbicides. Chemicals that had changed in the fire became more toxic at lower levels.

Chemicals were rendered more easily available by their current adsorption to airborne soil particulates. Upon entry of these particulates into their lungs, the new chemical mix off gassed and became biologically active. In the heartland of America, these farmers had unwittingly participated in an experiment in chemical warfare!

We decided then to write a guide to open a dialogue on air monitoring, risk, and engineering-a guide to show that collectively we as scientists and engineers need to develop an interdisciplinary approach to applying our knowledge.

Before any art must come the science.

Section 1 (Air Sampling Introduction), 2 (Air Sampling Instrumentation Options), and 3 (Calibration Techniques) present the current state-of-the-art techniques for air sampling. Section 4 discusses statistical analysis and relevance issues.

In Sections 5 (Chemical Risk Assessment) and 6 (Biological Risk Assessment), we discuss how air sampling and other environmental sampling are used to determine risk- risks of acute effect, chronic effect, and carcinogenic effect. Biological risk always has the added element of reproduction, as biologicals, unlike chemicals, can enlarge their numbers over time and distance from their source.

We then turn our attention to Section 7 (Indoor Air Quality and Environments) and Section 8 (Area Monitoring and Contingency Planning). Once we know how to monitor potential risk, how do we evaluate our buildings, our city air, and all the places we live and work? What do we do in an emergency? Are there times as illustrated in Section 9 when we will need to use microcircuitry and remote monitoring? What about our workplaces as addressed in Section 10 (Occupational Health-Air Monitoring Strategies)? Finally we need to consider monitoring for toxicological risk ( Section 11). If we find risk is evident, what tools ( Section 12, Risk Communication and Environmental Monitoring) will be needed?

This guide is the start of an interdisciplinary look at many issues that in fact are just one-can we live and work in places that are healthy? Do we have the knowledge and resources to ensure that our hospitals and schools have clean air? Can we now build and maintain ventilation systems that don’t foul over time? After World War I, Martha's grandfather returned to work in a cement plant. He was having some trouble breathing after he inhaled mustard agent in the trenches of France. At the cement plant he dug into the earth at a quarry using shovels and eventually powered equipment. The dust swirled around him and coated his clothing. Every night he was racked with convulsive coughing. In the morning he felt better, could even smoke on the way to work. Over the next 30 years, he slowly died. No one knew then to tell him-get another job, quit smoking, protect your damaged lungs.

This the author of this guide had a father who was a union plumber. He watched pipe fitters carry buckets of gray slurry to the work site. The slurry was applied to pipe junctures and hardened to ensure pipe integrity. The pipe fitters used their hands and wiped the excess slurry on their clothing.

They returned home, where their clothes were washed with their family's clothes; often the laundry room was next to the air intake for their home furnace. Over the years the father watched all these men die as their lungs, scarred with asbestosis, failed.

How many men and women to this day still don’t know that the factories and work places they occupy are poisoning them and often their families? Do they not know because the knowledge is unavailable? No. However, we have been slow to realize the need to communicate our knowledge. The simplest concepts have been lost. You don’t have to die to work. Ventilation systems can be improved. Healthier workers are more productive workers and happier people.

As our buildings age, and as we use ventilation systems designed to heat buildings- and to cool them-our indoor air problems have multiplied. The heat and cool cycles often cause condensation within the air-handling systems. The fiberglass duct liners that have captured particulates become slightly wetted. With time molds and fungi begin their life cycles hidden from us and amplify in number. Their spores ride the duct's airstream to our rooms and hallways. Maintenance personnel cannot reach the biological hiding ground.

Our residents begin to notice their health decline. Biological risk? Yes. In our hospitals and schools? Yes.

Our hope is that this guide will be used to begin these dialogues. Engineers and scientists need to look holistically at building design and maintenance. Business people need to realize the financial risk associated with accepting a nice building front rather than a state of-the-art ventilation system. We all need to begin talking and learning together, so that our children can live and work without concern for the very air that they breathe.


  1. Introduction to Air Sampling
  2. Options for Air Sampling Instruments and Apparatus (part 1, part 2)
  3. Calibration Methods and Techniques
  4. Statistical Analysis and Relevance
  5. Chemical Risk Assessment
  6. Biological Risk Assessment
  7. Indoor Air Quality and Environments
  8. Area Monitoring and Contingency Planning
  9. Microcircuitry and Remote Monitoring
  10. Occupational Health—Air Monitoring Strategies
  11. Monitoring for Toxicological Risk
  12. Risk Communication and Environmental Monitoring

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Updated: Thursday, 2015-01-22 3:25 PST