OSH Answers Fact Sheets
Easy-to-read, question-and-answer fact sheets covering a wide range of workplace health and safety topics, from hazards to diseases to ergonomics to workplace promotion. MORE ABOUT >
What is covered in this document?
What are air-cleaning devices?
In a ventilation system, an air-cleaning device removes or captures the contaminants that are present in the air. The type of air cleaner used will depend on:
- type of air contaminant to be removed,
- concentration of the contaminant in the air,
- how much contaminant must be removed to meet any regulations or standards,
- type and concentration of toxic chemical contaminants,
- type and size of dust particles,
- temperature, humidity, etc.,
- fire safety and explosion control, and
- air pollution control regulations.
What are air-cleaning devices for particulates?
Air-cleaners for particulates (suspension of fine solid or liquid particles in air such as dust, fog, fume, mist, smoke, or sprays) include:
- fabric collectors,
- centrifugal collectors,
- electrostatic precipitators, and
- wet scrubbers/collectors.
These filtration devices capture particulate contaminants as they pass through a specialized fabric filter. The most common example of a filtration device is a "bag house". It traps dusts by slowly passing air through many layers of fabric. Gradually, a dust layer accumulates on the fabric. This dust also acts as the filter and initially improves the dust collecting effectiveness of the system. After continued build-up of dust, the fabric becomes too clogged. The dust must be removed by either an automatic system, which shakes the dust from the fabric or by replacing the fabric bags.
Industries that commonly use a fabric collection system include foundries, grain handling, material handling, and crushing and grinding operations.
The most common type of centrifugal collectors example is a cyclone collector. These collectors separate particulates from the air by forcing the air to "spin" (similar to a cyclone or tornado). Spinning the air "throws" the contaminant into the outside edge of the air stream, and causes the particulates to fall or settle out of the air. Cyclone collectors are commonly used for the removal of coarse dust from an air stream and often as a pre-cleaner before a more efficient dust collector, and/or as a product separator. It is not suitable for the collection of fine particles.
Common uses are woodworking operations, rubber grinding, and as pre-cleaners before fabric filters.
Electrostatic precipitators remove fine particles from the air by placing an electrical charge on the particles. The particles are then attracted to an oppositely charged collection plate. Electrostatic precipitators are very efficient at collecting fine particles but cannot be used in very dusty operations because they clog easily.
They can effectively remove fumes and fine particles but not gases or vapours from the air. Electrostatic precipitators should not be used around flammable chemicals because an explosion could result if a spark is given off in the collector.
Common uses are in coal burning, plastic extrusion, and metal mining operations.
Wet collectors, or scrubbers, are available in many different designs and they are also used with gases and vapours. Wet collectors use water to help force dust, gas or vapour contaminants from the air. The principle mechanism is impaction of the dust particulates on water droplets. The wetted particulates are removed by centrifugal force or impingement (hitting) on baffles. These collectors have the ability to handle high temperature and moisture-laden gases. The collection of dust in a wetted form can minimize a secondary dust problem when disposing of collected material. In addition, some dusts represent explosion or fire hazards when dry and a wet collection system can minimize this hazard. However, the use of water may introduce corrosive conditions within the collector, and protection from freezing may be necessary if collectors are located outdoors in cold climates.
Common uses include in foundries, metal refining, and metal working operations.
What are air-cleaning devices for gases and vapours?
Gases and vapours can be removed by using the following processes:
The removal of a contaminant by contact with other materials such as activated alumina, activated charcoal and silica gel (referred to as adsorbers).
Absorbers remove soluble or chemically reactive gases from the gas stream by close contact with an appropriate liquid so that one or more of the air contaminants will dissolve in the liquid.
In this process, a catalyst converts a contaminant to a chemical form not considered to be hazardous. Catalysts are substances that alter the rate of a chemical reaction without being affected by the chemical reaction.
Thermal Oxidation (Combustion)
The combustion process (also called incineration) converts volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to carbon dioxide and water vapour by burning them. It is a very effective means of eliminating VOCs. Typical applications for incineration devices include odour control, reduction in reactive hydrocarbon emissions, and reduction of explosion hazards.
What should be considered when selecting an air-cleaning device?
Following are some tips for selecting an air-cleaning device in your workplace. Remember that a qualified professional should make final decisions regarding the suitability of an air-cleaning device.
- Before the air cleaning device is selected, it is very important to know maintenance and access requirements, the physical size of the equipment and how it will be installed in the plant as well as the methods of removing the collected contaminants.
- The air cleaner must be reliable. Many installations require monitoring or proof of continual operations by measuring conditions in the system.
- Maintenance and operating costs must be considered. The air cleaner must operate in stable conditions as well as variations such as plant start-up and shut down. Considerations also include if it must be accessible for maintenance or if the air cleaner must continue to operate while maintenance or repairs are being done.
- The device must meet local and national regulations (at start-up and over time)
Are there any legal standards for air-cleaning devices?
Yes. Since the 1970's, all installations of air-cleaning devices require approval by municipal, provincial, and federal air pollution control authorities such as the ministry or department of environment. In addition, an approval is required by the provincial ministries/departments of labour if an air-cleaning device is installed for to allow re-circulation of exhaust air back into the building (for energy conservation). Some legal standards require that re-circulated air must be cleaned up to the extent that it does not contain more than 1/10th of the permissible standard of any contaminant. Consult with your local jurisdiction for more details.
Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.