Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Correct Placement of Gas Monitors

We are often asked about the correct placement of area gas monitors. Area monitors monitor an area and tell workers whether it is safe to be in that area.

Area monitors should be placed close to potential sources of the gas or vapor being monitored, so for example if the gas is ethylene oxide used for hospital sterilization, then the monitors should be placed close the sterilizer, the abator (if used) and locations where the ethylene oxide is stored. An area monitor should detect the gas before it reaches the people working in the area and so can give more advanced warning than a personal monitor.

The monitors should be placed at a height similar to breathing zone for most people, typically about five feet (1.5 m) off the floor. The sensor or sampling point should be open to air and not covered or blocked.

A common question is how far can a gas monitor detect gas, and the accurate answer for diffusion type sensors is that the sensors detect only the gas that reaches them. It is possible to model the gas diffusion in static air, but the results are of little use because this model does not apply to real life. In a typical hospital sterilization department, aseptic food processing or commercial sterilization environment with large air turn overs (e.g. > ~10 turnovers/hr) it is difficult to predict how far the gas will travel because of the rapid turbulence of the air. We typically use a rule of thumb that gas monitors have a maximum radius of detection of about 5 feet and so two gas monitors should be no more than 10 feet apart (~3m). However, the optimum design of the gas monitoring system must take into account the place of the gas sources, e.g. (sterilizers), abators and ventilation.

We are often asked about the best placement of a monitor on or near a sterilizer (typically small dishwasher sized sterilizers, not the large commercial ones). If the sterilizer is wall mounted, then we recommend placing a monitor on the wall close to the front of the sterilizer. Sterilizers can potentially leak from the door when it is opened and so we need a monitor close by to provide suitable warning. This is particularly true in situations where users regularly open the sterilizer door and reach in to remove the load.

If the sterilizer is a free standing unit, the sensor should be placed above the door (ChemDAQ's remote sensor) and have a monitor on a nearby wall. If above the door is not possible, then as close to the front of the sterilizer as possible. Sterilizers can sometimes emit gas or vapor when the door is first opened after a cycle. We have seen 30 to 40 ppm hydrogen peroxide be emitted by some sterilizers each time the door was opened, significantly higher than the OSHA PEL of 1 ppm (8 hr TWA) and similar magnitude to the NIOSH Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health value (75 ppm).

Even though the OSHA PEL is not reached, other authorities that have updated their occupation exposure levels more recently than OSHA have introduced a STEL for hydrogen peroxide, for example 3 ppm in the State of Washington and 2 ppm in the United Kingdom While these limits are not enforceable outside Washington State and the UK respectively, they do indicate that exposure to high concentrations of vapors like hydrogen peroxide is best avoided.

Where there are several free standing sterilizers in a row, the best configuration is to have a sensor over every door to provide protection as described above. In some cases, cost demands that a monitor is placed between each pair of sterilizers. This configuration is will detect major leaks of gas or vapor but will not provide warning against small releases of gas or vapor when the sterilizer is opened.

Since hydrogen peroxide has almost no odor, workers would be exposed to this vapor cloud if they were not protected by a monitor. If the remote sensor is placed above the door, then workers can step away from the sterilizer after opening the door and return once the monitor says it is safe to do so. It is important that the remote sensor be placed above the door and not be pushed back since the plume of gas coming from the sterilizer is likely to completely pass by a sensor that has been pushed away, but the person leaning in to unload the sterilizer may not be so fortunate.

Another potential sources of leakage is at the rear of the sterilizer, from leaks in the plumbing or exhaust. If the sterilizer exhaust goes to a separate abator (EtO only), then the abator should be monitored too. There have been several cases of ethylene oxide leakage from holes in the duct between the sterilizer and abator, or failure of fans to exhaust the gas.

Another common question is whether a monitor for heavier gases and vapors should be placed low because the gas sinks in air. Those who did Chemistry may remember the experiments with heavy gases and vapors like nitrogen dioxide and bromine that form brown clouds that sink to the floor. In some applications where the air is static (man-holes, grain silos and other confined space entry) stratification of gases by mass is an important issue. People who go down manholes sometimes put their monitors at ankle height while descending, so that they will hear an alarm before their head reaches that level. For most common applications with high air turnover, the air turbulence is so great that stratification is not significant. The monitors should therefore be placed at breathing height.

In conclusion, area gas monitors should be placed near the sources of gas so that they can inform people whether it is safe to be in the area and when it is safe to return to an area after a release of gas or vapor. The monitors should be placed at breathing height, ~ 5 feet, and where there are multiple sources close together, the monitors should be no more than 10 feet apart. Every facility is different and so your ChemDAQ rep. will work with you to design a system that meets your needs.

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