Environmental Test Chambers: What is their value to industry and how do they improve quality of life?
The often quoted statistics that according to the USA EPA we spend over 80% of our time indoors, and that indoor air quality can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air have new relevance with some recent changes in the indoor ecosystem.
The constant drive for energy efficiency can have a negative impact on indoor air quality and recent publications about the issue of ultrafine particles are bringing air quality in the built environment under the spotlight. Consumers are reenergised about the right to breath ‘fresh air indoors’ and consumer products such as electrical appliances and cleaning services are coming under scrutiny. However there is a tool that industry can use to fight back and that is large climate controlled environmental test chambers. Angela Southey is the manager of one of the few aerobiology test facilities of its kind in the world that combines an environmental test chamber with state of the art air sampling, microbiology, molecular biology and measurement of airborne allergens.
This article has been written in Q and A format following an interview with Angela Southey PhD at the test facility at airmid healthgroup and is a hugely informative interview on the subject.
Dr Southey what are environmental test chambers?
They are purpose built test rooms where you can precisely control parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, air quality and air exchange rate and the air composition can be accurately measured and adjusted using our state of the art air handling system that controls air exchange. A double skin and chamber ante room further avoid any influences from the surrounding atmosphere.
Tell us a bit about the set up and construction of an environmental test chamber
Well this Environmentally Controlled Test Chamber is 16' x 8' x 8' nominal dimensions with stainless steel interior, two observation windows on one side and door, externally sealable ports, internal electrical outlet and fluorescent lighting, conditioned and maintained at 70° F ± 5° F and 50% ± 5% relative humidity. There is also an ante room which is extremely important.
What type of specialised testing can be done in an Environmental Test chamber
An environmental test chamber allows the assessment of key areas of concern that relate to indoor air quality, such as indoor particulate contaminants including ultra-fine particles, viruses, bacteria, mold and toxins (including endotoxin).
What type of products can be assessed in Environmental Test Chambers?
Everything that can be found in the built or indoor environment from wall and floor coverings to electrical appliance to textiles. You can then study the impact of these electrical appliances and household products on indoor environmental pollution using state-of-the-art analytical methods and models.
What special functionality should Environmental Test Chambers have?
In addition to observation windows you should have specialist monitoring instrumentation that measures concentrations of suspended particulates and the levels of other harmful airborne pollutants such as allergens and viruses. Air samples can also be captured remotely at designated time points. Good chambers will also have an outside the chamber computer control system which is equipped for remote manipulation of climatic parameters and real time data capture and modelling.
Tell us more about how chamber facilities are integrated with the analysis laboratories.
Well in addition to the real time data capture the chambers are often placed at the centre of the test facility surrounded by other analytical laboratories (eg bacteria, virus, mold and allergen) to allow rapid multifaceted examination of all samples that are generated.
Tell us about the type of instruments going in and coming out of the wall of chambers?
Sampling instruments inside the chamber are remotely connected to this computer control system outside the chamber, which is equipped for remote manipulation of climatic parameters and real time data capture and modelling.
What type of evaluations can be done in an environmental test chamber?
You can evaluate continuous particulate monitoring results and record the peak values during use. In addition to this real time data samples can be drawn off and analysed for harmful substance in the adjoining laboratories. There are also a number of methodologies for Quantifying Respirable Particulate Emissions for example those generated by electrical appliances such as air conditioners or dehumidifiers as well as standard floor coverings. You can also study the removal of dust and allergen from the surface of the chamber such as a test floor and also measure the impact that product may have on airborne levels as well as look at allergen dust redistribution on the walls or recovery in products such as air conditioners and air filtration devices
Why types of apparatus are used in association with chambers?
Other types of equipment that are often used for the experiments in chambers include; Relative Humidity Control Unit Room Air Purifier or Electronic Air Cleaner as well as Real-Time Aerosol Monitors.
What type of conditioning is required?
Test room temperature and humidity should be maintained in standard laboratory conditions, 70° F ± 5° F and 50% ± 5% relative humidity in which all conditioning and sample preparation is performed.
How does a Real Time Aerosol Monitor work?
A Real Time Aerosol Monitor is capable of measuring airborne particulate concentrations from 0.1 ug/m3 to 40 mg/m3 with resolution to 0.1 ug /m3. Data logging averaging periods are 10 sec with report generating maximum, minimum and average particulate emissions concentrations over the duration.
What type of air handling units are required to keep chambers in a steady state?
We would recommned a 850 CFM Fan/Coil and Chilled Water Module set to maintain 70° F ± 5°F and 50% ± 5% relative humidity environmental conditions which is capable of maintaining specified conditions in the test chamber . Also a 2000 CFM Room Air Purifier containing a Type A HEPA filter with minimum filter efficiency of 99.97% on 0.3 μg particulate and then on an intermittent basis and an Electronic Air Cleaner designed to remove airborne particles down to 0.01 microns.
What is the value to industry in testing in environmental test chambers?
Environmental test chambers are ideal for a wide range of applications for manufactures of consumer products as well as services. They provide a contamination-free, constant temperature environment and large working space for conducting critical studies such as the impact of an air conditioner on airborne infectious agents. This can be done at the prototype or R&D phase instead of field studies after the product is completed or even worse product recalls. The ability to avail of applied research in microbiology, molecular biology, and aerobiology in the controlled chamber setting could save a company millions in time and prototype development.