Monthly Archives: March 2016

More Mass Spectrometry Lab Safety Concerns

QuietBench_Warning1When it comes to lab safety, we often talk about noise and its elimination, but there are other potential risks from using mass spectrometers and liquid and gas chromatographs in a lab. Everything from carrier gas volatility to magnetic fields and vibration can create a lab safety concern.

While some of these tips may be almost second nature, it’s always good to review them from time to time to make sure they aren’t being overlooked or shortened, leaving the potential for a developing, dangerous, lab safety situation.

Preventive Lab Safety Measures

There are several safety precautions you can take to prevent any volatility in your mass spectrometry lab. These include:

  • Turn off the gas source any time you turn off, vent your MS or if there is a power failure.
  • Check frequently for leaks, using certified leak-checking equipment.
  • Remove ignition sources from your lab whenever possible (including open flames, sources of static electricity, or devices that spark).
  • Never allow gases to vent from high pressure directly into the lab itself.

Additional Mass Spectrometry Safety Tips

In addition to volatility, there are other lab safety concerns to be aware of with mass specs and other spectrometers. Make sure you:

  • Avoid touching cold hoses during cryogenic refilling to avoid nasty burns.
  • if your MS came with a safety kit, make sure to install it before operating.
  • Vacate the lab immediately if gases vent loudly and cause a dense, white fog. If this occurs during a magnet quench on an NMR, or sudden boil-off of cryogens, it can cause asphyxiation.
  • Never look at lasers.
  • Whenever possible, do not operate the MS in service mode.
  • If there’s a power failure, turn off all equipment and gas sources. Let the MS cool down for at least an hour and open the MS vacuum manifold to atmosphere (remove side plates or manifold windows) before restarting.

Lab safety is probably the most important element of your job, which is why we spend so much time on it. To learn more about protecting yourself from lab accidents, and how our dedicated lab furniture can help, contact us today.


Lab Safety: Not All Lab Accidents End in Tragedy

QuietBench 1Lab safety is serious, but sometimes it does have a lighter side. Regular readers of our blog probably know we sometimes drive home our lab safety message with a lighter tone. Such is the case with this post. Here are some lab accidents that resulted in serendipitous discoveries and “successful” new products instead of fires and fatalities.

Scientific Breakthroughs from Lab Safety Blunders

Modern lab safety rules are often designed to prevent cross-contamination of any kind, but that might not always be for the best. It’s well known that Alexander Fleming is the discoverer of penicillin. Less well known is the fact that he also discovered a beneficial enzyme after accidentally sneezing on a bacterial sample. Fortunately, he didn’t immediately discard it (which would have certainly met modern lab safety protocol) and instead observed that his mucus was keeping certain bacterial microbes at bay.

Meanwhile, one of the most successful drug discoveries in the modern era was also accidental. Men in the Welsh mining town of Merthyr Tydfil participated in a drug trial in 1992. Test results showed that the drug being investigated was not helping with their angina. Fortunately, however, at least a few of the voluble test subjects were happy to talk about a recent rise in their private lives. If not, the research world might never have discovered an effective use for sildenafil citrate, aka Viagra.

Not all such discoveries have taken place in clean, modern laboratories. In fact, one of the earliest “accidents” in lab history involved Chinese alchemists in the ninth century. They were attempting to mix up an elixir of immortality and instead created an elixir of death: gunpowder.

Another “fortunate” lab accident with decidedly mixed results came from the research lab of DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett. A “defective” canister of tetrafluoroethylene gas was found to also have a friction-free white powder, which would soon adhere itself to frying pans around the world. Unfortunately, research in later years uncovered a real-world safety predicament with this discovery. Further tests revealed that the powder, now known as Teflon, contains a “likely carcinogen” found in fully 95 percent of American bloodstreams.

Fictional Advantageous Lab Accidents

As any science fiction fan knows, fortunate lab safety accidents are not limited to the real world. Comic book heroes have attained various superpowers as the result of scientific mishaps. The Flash was the first, with his incredible speed being the side effect of inhaling certain vapors in a lab. The Hulk is another—physicist Bruce Banner’s initial transformation was triggered by being caught in the blast of a gamma bomb that he himself had invented.

But not all fictional characters belonged in the lab that transformed them. Plastic Man was a thief whose presence in the Crawford Chemical Works was entirely nefarious in nature—he and his colleagues were burgling the place. Perhaps the lab itself retaliated by transforming him with that falling drum of unknown acid.

Preventing Lab Accidents with Dedicated Benches for Mass Spectrometry

Of course, there have been a lot more lab discoveries made because of careful adherence to lab safety rather than divergence from it. This is why we have created our dedicated benches for mass spectrometry. They are specifically designed to keep you and your colleagues safe in the lab—and the mass spectrometer safe from damage or destruction. If you aren’t using dedicated lab furniture yet, contact us today and find out how it can keep your lab, your researchers, your MS, and your data safe from harm.


Addressing Lab Safety at the Noise Source

Quietbench_Lab_Noise_Sources_1It’s true that noise can be one of the less-obvious lab safety issues. Flashy chemical reactions, fires, and sloppy mistakes may make great press, but it’s the slow-and-steady issues that are more often the culprits when it comes to lost time—and thus productivity—in the lab workplace.

We’ve explained in detail how the decibel system works, and the elements that make up a dBA rating. We’ve talked about OSHA’s rules and regulations with regard to noise in the workplace. In this post, we’ll focus on some specific sources of lab noise, and the cures that can help reduce those noises, thus keeping everyone in your lab happier, healthier and safely at work where they belong.

External and Internal Noises

Of course, some noises in the lab environment are beyond your control. Ambient noise from the surrounding area can have a definite impact on the overall noise level in your lab. This is certainly true if your building is situated in an industrial area, but it could also be true if you were to set up your lab out in the countryside, where tractors and trains might be the problem, instead of car horns and industrial machines.

In addition to external noise sources, there are likely to be noises inherent in the lab that will contribute to the overall noise level of the working environment. Ringing telephones—no matter what the ringtone—will contribute to the environment, as will any piped-in music or radios, along with the necessary conversations taking place amongst the various working groups within the lab.

Lab Equipment as a Lab Safety Problem

But the largest culprit when it comes to noise tends to be the equipment you use in your lab. Refrigerators and freezers, fume hoods and compressors, stirring motors and centrifuges all contribute to the level of noise in a lab. MS vacuum pumps and nitrogen gas generators also contribute to the overall noise, until it seems practically impossible to carry on a reasonable conversation.

Additionally, all of this equipment is not created equally. While some equipment, such as fume hoods, run constantly, others work periodically—refrigerators, for example—or intermittently, such as LC pneumatic sample injectors. This means that the amount of noise in any lab is constantly changing, and therefore more difficult to address.

Controlling Lab Noise with Dedicated Mass Spectrometry Benches

One of the best ways to control lab noise is to start with the design of the lab itself. By working with the lab architect, you can insure it will meet OSHA standards and other safety protocols. However, if you’re dealing with an existing lab, you are limited in what you can do to prevent external noise from getting in, or to use sound-deadening materials in the lab’s construction.

But you can address the specific lab equipment you use, and find ways to keep the noise of that equipment below a critical hearing-loss threshold. One specific way to do this is with dedicated mass spectrometry benches. Our IonBench MS encloses the loudest part of a mass spec—the vacuum pumps—which makes the entire machine much quieter.

Another avenue to lab safety is through innovative technology. For example, new oil-less rotary scroll in-house nitrogen gas generators compress ambient air with much less noise, as well as preventing pollution of your LC/MS system with oil. Using a rotary scroll system actually decreases the noise level from an average of 55-60 dBA to as low as 49 dBA. Since the decibel scale is weighted, this is a large decrease in noise—and therefore a significant increase in lab safety.

So if your lab is noisy, consider what dedicated lab furniture and new technologies can do to increase lab safety in your workplace. To learn more about the safety features built into our IonBench MS, contact us today or complete our online form to request a quote.