| Imagine how nasty it would be if some of the dirty water draining into your sink was allowed to leak back into the fresh water coming from your faucet. Yuck! Now imagine looking up at a factory’s exhaust stack and noticing that it’s located just inches from the intake pipe, the one that’s supposed to suck in fresh air for the workers inside. Even a novice can see that this is an unhealthy situation. Some of the airborne contaminants exiting the building are sure to be sucked right back in.
Last week we discussed the importance of location with regard to intake and output pipes, an integral part of a local exhaust ventilation system. The placement of these stacks is governed by various industry standards that present guidelines to insure that ventilation systems work properly and protect the health of people in the workplace. These guidelines have been determined by scientific study to equate to a safe minimal standard, as determined by a body of experts that have come together to form a consensus committee on the subject.
Generally speaking, the standards set recommend that exhaust stacks extend upward a minimum of 10 feet above the highest point of the roof. As for discharge velocity, the rate at which contaminated air blows out of the stack, the standards recommend that operation take place at a minimum of 3,000 feet per second. Separation distances between exhaust stacks and air intakes vary according to dilution requirements set out in the standards, but basically the separation must be great enough so that airborne contaminants leaving the exhaust stack get safely diluted by outside air so they will pose no hazard should they ever reach the air intake ducts. This combination of height, velocity, and distance factors allows contaminated air to be dispersed far enough from the building to avoid downdrafts created by wind passing over the roof, thereby preventing undesirable consequences like the smoke that re-entered my house through its fireplace on windy days.
One device that is sometimes incorporated into the scenario to keep workplace air clean is the inclusion of rain caps on the roof. These look like conical shaped hats, and they’re supposed to keep rain from falling into the exhaust stack. It seems like a good idea, but they unfortunately do not work very well. To begin with, they don’t do a good job of keeping out rain, especially when it’s driven by strong winds. Another drawback is that they can actually direct contaminants exiting from exhaust stacks back down to the roof and into the building’s fresh air intake ducts. Yet another drawback of rain caps is that they often result in the local exhaust ventilation system fan working harder than it has to because the contaminated air slams into the rain cap, thereby slowing its rate of exit and causing it to lose velocity energy. This means a fan must be selected to work harder to compensate for the resistance.
Well, that’s it for our series on local exhaust ventilation systems. Next time we’ll switch gears and discuss how those outlet covers in your home with the cute little red and black buttons work to protect you against death by electrocution. They’re usually positioned near water sources and are known as “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters,” or GFCI. I’ll be discussing topics like this on an upcoming show to be featured on The Discovery Channel, where I’ll be acting as a subject matter expert. The series, titled “Curious and Unusual Deaths,” will cover a wide range of potential threats that are present in our everyday environments.
Tags: airborne contaminants, ANSI, ASHRAE, dispersion, engineering expert witness, exhaust stack, exit velocity, forensic engineer, fresh air intake, industrial ventilation, local exhaust ventilation system, NFPA, rain cap, separation distance, stack height above roof