Defeating BSC Contamination: Launching a Program in Your Facility

As many lab and production managers know, biological safety cabinet (BSC) contamination is a relentless challenge. Fortunately, there are proven and reliable means to combat it and keep your appliances safe, compliant, and running in top order.

That was the message of our recent webinar “Boost Lab Safety & Research Integrity By Eliminating BSC Contamination.” Two Triumvirate Environmental experts hosted the presentation: Corporate Director of Engineering and Consulting Joseph Campisi and Project Technical Services Manager Damian Luna.

Together, they shared guidance and insights from decades in the BSC maintenance management field. During the event, they defined what BSC contamination is—and how it poses many dangers to employees and the lab or production environment. Then they discussed how a disinfection program can protect an organization's vital operations and research integrity, as well as its workforce.

We know BSCs are crucial in so many ways—and their downtime is a serious matter. To understand the scope of the problem, in a poll, the experts asked how often in the past several years BSC downtime had impacted research:

  • “Rarely” was the top answer (49%)
  • “Never” was in second place, tied with “Annually” (both at 18%)
  • “Quarterly” came in last (16%)

Clearly the issue is widespread—but it can be addressed. As Campisi said: “You can see that there's a little over a third of the respondents who had regular issues with BSC downtime. And we find that a regular program of decontaminations and certifications, plus follow-up maintenance, will certainly help minimize equipment downtime.”

BSC Contamination Threat to R&D, Production

Many managers understand the importance of their BSCs—but not necessarily the scope of the contamination threat to these appliances. Unfortunately, what managers don’t know can hurt them—and their operations.

As Luna explained, contamination occurs when the BSC’s internal parts and its crucial high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter become clogged and coated with:

  • Mold
  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Yeast
  • Biologic research debris

These pollutants can foul the HEPA filter through airborne transmission (in miniscule amounts) over time, during routine operations. They also invade via direct contact transmission with infectious tissues or fluids (such as can occur in an accidental spill).

Sometimes the workers’ own personal protective equipment (PPE) is compromised and that helps to spread the contamination. Improperly donned, worn, or doffed PPE (boots, glove, frocks, and sleeves), can spread contamination. “Be sure that the PPE fits properly,” said Luna.

Understanding the risk requires factoring in diverse cabinet types—for instance, older units will have vulnerabilities that newer units don’t, and vice versa. Luna also noted the variety of infiltration vectors, such as the BSC startup and shutdown routines. For example, as he explained, in newer cabinets, the immediate and automatic stop and start mechanisms can introduce contaminants into the cabinet.

Combating the BSC Contamination Enemy

Unfortunately, routine cleaning doesn’t address BSC contamination buildup. To keep the cabinets pollution-free and running in top order, managers must implement an entirely systemic approach. This involves implementing engineering and administrative controls as well as performing thorough decontaminations with proper chemicals and equipment.

“Creating standard operating procedures and training and executing these procedures is a key element in reducing the spread of contamination and creating a safe working environment,” Luna explained. Creating control solutions can be complex, and involve manipulating filters, airflows, and much more. However, these systems pay major safety dividends.

Measures to combat contamination can include a myriad of factors—such as the physical placement of the cabinets in the worksite. “One of the other things you may want to consider is try to avoid having cabinets next to a door,” explained Luna.

“Cross currents, people walking by at high speeds, or a door opening up at high speed could inadvertently cause contaminants to enter. Essentially, it will offset the inflow velocity and it'll counter it, and then it'll allow contamination to enter your workspace.”

Time to Decontaminate Your BSC

The rules for when to fully cleanse the BSC vary. Naturally, cabinets will need decontamination after any large chemical or biological material spills, as Luna said. Then there are mandatory cleanings that must come before annual certification. Besides those, cleaning frequency depends on the make and age of the units, how they are used, and how frequently workers operate them—to name just a few factors.

For instance, cleaning is needed before any maintenance work, filter changes, and performance tests that involve access to any contaminated section of the appliance. Decontamination is also necessary during the decommissioning or disposal of the unit—or when salvaging one. A worksite relocation demands cleaning, as well—some moving companies won’t touch a used and unclean BSC.

Organizations should also decontaminate BSCs that are slated to support new research or work protocols. Luna said, “I've seen a lot of clients, where that's worked great for them. Any time they start a new area of research, then they'll just decontaminate the cabinet—just to make sure that there is no potential for a cross-contamination with their previous research.”

There are a variety of processes, equipment, and chemicals available for decontamination—but managers should rely on only the most reliable and accepted ones. Ideally, maintenance professionals will stick to the guidelines from the NSF/ANSI 49 Standard.

And, as he has noted in this blog, Luna recommends using a chlorine dioxide-based system for decontamination. As he pointed out, true gas is the best agent for fast, thorough, and safe cabinet cleansing.

Partnering for BSC Decontamination

As you can see, there are many nuances and challenges involved with proper BSC maintenance. A partner can provide the necessary savvy and capabilities to keep your appliances operating in optimal conditions.

Triumvirate Environmental offers such expertise, ready to repair, decontaminate, and maintain your BSCs, as needed. Want to learn more? We invite you to watch our on-demand webinar "Boost Lab Safety & Research Integrity By Eliminating BSC Contamination" or contact us today.

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