Environment vs. Safety
Can Industrial Hygienists Be Good Environmental Citizens?
BY PAMELA GREENLEY
Editor’s note: The following scenario is a fictional depiction of an ethical conflict. Any similarities to real people are unintentional.
Mitch is a CIH and a staff member of the EHS office at a large
research-oriented university, for which he provides industrial
hygiene services. He is considered a national expert on laboratory ventilation, and he has done extensive research with various types of hoods, airflows, and lab configurations to
understand how to properly contain contaminants in hoods.
The university president has set high standards for the institution to engage in energy research and has established a high-visibility committee to oversee energy use reductions on
campus. Mitch is excited because he has been asked to sit on
this committee as the sole EHS representative.
The committee is aware of the high energy costs associated
with chemical hood operation. In the past, EHS has been viewed
as reluctant to embrace energy conservation in laboratories because of its concerns over potential impacts on health and
safety. The EHS director has pressured Mitch to make sure that
his actions on the committee counteract the negative image of
EHS as unsupportive of sustainability issues and reluctant to
The committee would like to reduce the average face velocity
of all hoods on campus to a maximum of 80 fpm at a working
sash height of 18 inches. Mitch helped set this criteria, but he
thinks it should be applied only to newer hoods with good
aerodynamic design and optimum laboratory configurations.
His containment testing suggests that a containment level of
1/10,000 will not otherwise be met.
The university has a high-visibility agreement with its local
utility company to reduce energy use on campus by 5 percent
per year. If the university meets this goal, it will receive a 15
percent rate reduction from the utility. But the only way the
university can qualify for this reduction is to include all hoods
in the energy conservation program. Including only newer
hoods and those in optimal settings won’t save enough energy
to meet the goal.
Mitch’s boss is pressuring him to allow all the hoods to be
in the energy conservation program and to address containment problems as they arise. His boss also says that many of
the hoods are used in biomedical research, for which a containment level of 1/10,000 is overkill. But Mitch lacks the time
and resources to do the containment testing in a timely manner. The maintenance staff is also shorthanded, so making flow
adjustments for hoods that fail the test will take a while. Mitch
knows that researchers will continue to use the hoods during
this readjustment procedure because no other hoods are available. His state has no regulations on hood face velocity. ANSI
Z9.5, a laboratory ventilation consensus standard, says most
hoods can be operated effectively with relatively low risk in
the range of 80 to 100 fpm.
1. Should Mitch allow all the hoods to be included in the face
velocity reduction program and deal with problems later, or
should he set a stricter criterion for the program?
2. Industrial hygienists commonly encounter the environment
vs. health and safety conflict. Reducing energy use is key to
being a good environmental citizen; providing good hood
containment is key to protecting researchers’ health. What
approach could be used to support both goals?
3. According to ANSI, only hoods with excellent containment
and good lab conditions can provide adequate containment
at 60 to 80 fpm. If the committee was trying to reduce all
hoods to 60 fpm, what approach should Mitch take?
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