The Crucial Connection Between Outside Air Quality and Lab Air Controls

In June 2023, wildfires in Quebec caused more than 75 million people in the United States to experience unhealthy or hazardous air quality. The world watched in concern as Canada battled its worst fire season on record, with hundreds of blazes raging across the country. Several Canadian cities recorded unhealthy air quality index (AQI) readings, reaching above 400 on the East Coast, signaling a hazardous level. Residents were advised to stay indoors with their air conditioning running or, in some areas, evacuate. While this may seem like a distant crisis, it underscores the importance of considering outside air quality in building operations, especially during the shoulder seasons when we seek to harness the mid-temperature outdoors to heat or cool indoor spaces.

The Measure of Air Quality

To truly appreciate the significance of monitoring and controlling outside air quality, we must first understand how air quality is measured and why it is essential for lab spaces. Air quality is assessed using the Air Quality Index (AQI), a standardized index that quantifies air pollution levels on a scale from 0 to 500. The AQI takes into account various pollutants such as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and carbon monoxide (CO).

In lab environments, maintaining high indoor air quality is paramount, as it directly impacts the health and safety of occupants and the integrity of experiments and research. Laboratories often house sensitive equipment, chemicals, and biological materials that can be adversely affected by poor air quality. This is why ensuring proper air filtration and ventilation systems are in place is vital.

The Tale of a Wise Decision

Consider the story of one of our clients who, after consulting with us, made a crucial decision during the wildfires in June 2023. This client operated a cutting-edge research facility in the affected region and had always emphasized the importance of indoor air quality.

As the wildfires raged and the AQI soared to hazardous levels, our client faced a dilemma. They were in the midst of the late shoulder season when temperatures outside were moderate and ideal for free heating and cooling. However, labs cannot use recirculated air due to the nature of their work. Despite this limitation, the client, armed with real-time data indicating poor air quality, took proactive measures to mitigate the effects.

The decision was further validated by measuring the particle count inside the building, confirming that it had reached a level that would adversely affect operations. This real-time data was instrumental in demonstrating the urgency of the situation to the client. Particle count measurements provide a granular understanding of indoor air quality, allowing for precise adjustments to the filtration and ventilation systems to maintain a safe environment for both personnel and experiments.

Furthermore after careful consultation and assessment, our experts advised the client to temporarily close their outdoor air intakes where they could and rely on recirculated indoor air where possible. In areas where closing outside air intakes was not possible, they increased filtering. While this meant relinquishing the opportunity for free heating and cooling, it was a necessary step to protect the lab's occupants, experiments, and equipment.

The Importance of Adaptability

This real-life scenario highlights the importance of adaptability when it comes to lab air controls. While taking advantage of the late shoulder season's mild temperatures for energy efficiency is a sound practice, it should never come at the cost of compromising indoor air quality. Our client's decision to prioritize safety over energy savings during the wildfire crisis, backed by accurate particle count measurements, ultimately safeguarded their lab's integrity and, most importantly, the well-being of those working within.

In conclusion, the late shoulder season's outside air quality should never be underestimated when managing lab air controls. The tale of the 2023 Quebec wildfires serves as a poignant reminder of how swiftly air quality can deteriorate and why proactive measures, including closing outdoor air intakes where necessary and relying on real-time data such as particle count, are essential to protect lab spaces, occupants, and research endeavors. As a company specializing in lab air controls, we remain committed to helping our clients strike the delicate balance between energy efficiency and indoor air quality, ensuring safe and productive laboratory environments year-round.

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