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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Air Monitoring Standards: Today's Air Monitoring Equipment and Methods Offer More

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jan 25, 2012 8:15:00 AM

By Bruce D. Groves, CIH

Compared with the air quality monitoring methods of even a few years ago, today’s air monitor system offers its users a quicker, more effective, and comprehensive way to assess potential environmental hazards.

2nd Ave Subway Construction Muck House - What emissions from here are impacting the Local Air Quality?
The recently published article, “ MTA: 2nd Avenue Subway Construction Not a Danger to Your Health,” responds to a rise in complaints about possible environmental health hazards from the construction. In the article, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu suggested the public faced no danger from the construction based on results from a fall 2011 Parsons Brinkerhoff (PB) air monitoring study.

The PB study highlights important facts and issues about the project and makes useful points about air quality monitoring in general; however, PB used the same traditional dust and vapor monitors and methods that were used at the World Trade Center recovery site in 2001.

In the last decade and especially over the last few years, superior air monitoring technologies have been developed and used to help ensure that emission rates from major hazardous waste remediation operations in the New York metropolitan area are kept as low as possible. The use of innovative, more effective, and more cost-saving air monitoring equipment and methods would have provided data for the PB study that would better support MTA’s assertions.

Greenlight Map View of Integrated Air Monitoring Data

For example, state-of-the-art air quality monitors today use integrated, real-time environmental air sampling that measures multiple dust particle sizes while simultaneously tagging each sample to wind speed and direction—a particularly valuable approach for evaluating the impact of blasting, material (rock) loading, vehicle exhaust emissions, and other construction-related activities in densely populated urban sites where wind direction varies significantly. In addition, vapor and gas measurements, including VOCs, SO2, CO, H2S, and NH3, can now be integrated into a single database to create a visual map of the air quality and wind direction across a project area. The data are then transmitted in real time to computers, including iPads and other handheld technology, for quick response to problems.

An integrated approach also helps:

• Differentiate the sources of air contaminants so that those associated with the construction can be distinguished from those of other background sources

• Determine when emission levels from the construction/remediation activity begin rising

• Deliver immediate information to construction management so that they can make timely decisions to protect workers and the public

• Measure the efficacy of engineering controls and work practices in reducing emission rates, even when concentrations are below project or regulatory safe levels

Given the options, PB and the MTA would have found these and other meaningful enhancements in air monitoring equipment and techniques valuable to the 2nd Avenue Subway construction project.

I encourage you to learn more about state-of-the-art air monitoring equipment, including integrated systems that allow users to make evidence-based decisions to protect workers and the public.

Second Avenue Subway (SAS) Project – Air Quality Monitoring Study of Construction Activities between 69th and 87th Street on Second Avenue
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Topics: Emilcott, Air Monitoring, air quality monitoring systems, environmental health hazards, Greenlight, air monitoring equipment, MTA, monitoring air quality, health hazards, air monitoring techniques, Air Sampling, Greenlight System

Air Monitoring at Construction Sites…My New Reality

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Apr 4, 2011 3:33:53 PM

by Ed Pearl

I have been doing on-site environmental health and safety (EHS) work at many types of outdoor job sites for six years.  A big part of the site safety manager at a construction project is air monitoring. When workers have the possibility of exposure to an airborne hazard, it's critical to take frequent measurements of site conditions (often airborne particulates or hydrocarbons) to define worker risk for exposure. When the risk increases, the safety plan kicks in to prevent overexposure. Knowing what is floating in the air at the job site (and how much of it) is why air monitoring is such an important part of any construction site safety program.

For the last several months I have been working at a former Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) responsible for, yet again, another air monitoring program.  The difference is, for the first time, I’m using the Greenlight Environmental Monitoring System for air monitoring – a completely new experience.   

How I Used to do Air Monitoring

Maybe this daily process looks familiar to you? Snow, rain, ice, cold…the daily routine didn’t vary much!

  • I collected the air monitoring instruments at the end of the day and downloaded each one individually to get the day’s readings.

  • I checked through the day’s data to see if there were any problems (maybe a little late?).

A real leap in monitoring technology meant that I was using a laptop for data collection!  I drove or walked to each field station to download data onto the computer. Sunny days, while pleasant, had their own challenges – have you ever tried to look at a laptop screen while combating the glare of full sun? Needless to say, when it came to technology I was open…but skeptical.

My New Perspective

The differences between the fairly standard monitoring equipment setup (even with the laptop addition) and how the Greenlight System works is like night and day. As I worked, my initial impressions were shaped by Greenlight’s ease of setup and operation as the entire system design has been set up from an EHS professional’s perspective:

  • All monitoring devices in the field are turned on and off from a central location.

  • No tedious end-of-the-day drive and download because the System continuously feeds and records monitoring data to a server in “real time”.  

From the minute the project starts up each day, the monitoring results are displayed in REAL TIME on my operator screen.  I can see ALL of the readings from the entire site’s monitoring stations at the same time, no matter where they are in the field!  In fact, now I see site conditions as they happen so that I can take action as needed. And, if a field station or monitoring device is non-responsive, I am notified almost immediately rather than discovering that there’s no valid data to download at the end of the day.

The Greenlight System that I’m using includes what I consider to be ever-important – a weather station:  temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction. Having this information corresponding to particulate or hydrocarbon monitoring -- in real time -- is critical when trying to define potential exposures to hazardous materials and implement appropriate controls. Since weather conditions directly affect air monitoring and have a potential to change quickly (and sometimes without much warning), the data pouring in from the weather station is very useful to have at my fingertips.

The Learning Curve Levels Out

Since I am a new operator of the Greenlight System, it has been a learning process for me. Starting out was a little bit scary! After six years of doing it pretty much one way, it’s a new way of both thinking and reacting. But, the ease of operation and the effectiveness of the System have transformed me…allowing me to provide more effective support to the site construction team. 

  • Need the entire site air monitoring and weather condition information? With the data on my computer screen and on the server, if anyone needs a snapshot of site conditions at any moment, I can supply that information.

  • Want to know what happened last week? I’ve got it the information all ready to go! It no longer takes hours or days to find the right data and put it into a format that is understandable and explainable.

  • Concerned that there is a change in airborne contaminant levels at the site?  I’m on top of that, too! Even when a small change occurs, I am notified immediately, and I can quickly investigate. 

The Data Speaks

My sense is that when the construction team experiences how available the air monitoring data is and that with these data we can be very responsive with control implementation, they are more confident that are working in a safe environment.  The workers seem more content, and project managers are pretty happy knowing that they can continue working safely while staying on time and on budget.

What new innovations do you see in particulate and hydrocarbon monitoring at construction sites? Have you found any other tools that will help you be a more effective site safety manager? What other “tools” would you like that would help you monitor airborne contaminants?
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Topics: General EHS, Construction H&S, Air Monitoring, Occupational Safety, Greenlight, Air Sampling, environmental air monitoring, perimeter air monitoring

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