Years Produced: 1900s – 1970s
A fume hood is a device used in laboratory or industrial settings where volatile chemicals are used. It is designed to limit exposure to dangerous chemical vapors, fumes or dusts, in an enclosed work area. Essentially a fume hood is a box, in which dangerous or volatile chemicals are kept or used, with some form of external exhaust ventilation. Fume hoods remove dangerous chemical fumes by drawing in air from the front, where the chemicals are worked with, pulling the fumes away from the worker, and then pushing those fumes out the exhaust ventilation.
There are a number different types of fume hoods. They are primarily categorized by the way in which they control and ventilate fumes; including Variable Air Volume (VAV), Standard or Bypass, Auxiliary Air, Ductless hoods, Clean Hoods and a Biosafety Cabinets (BSC). The primary components of fume hoods are made of wood, metal, aluminum and special plastics. Before being restricted as a carcinogen Asbestos was commonly used in the hood’s interior lining.
The addition of asbestos to fume hood linings made them more resistant to corrosive chemicals and heat. The presence of asbestos in fume hoods could pose a potential hazard for workers and repairmen during the cleaning, maintenance, installation or removal process. For scientists, researchers and laboratory attendants, safety guidelines have minimized the number of hazardous incidents involving asbestos within fume and laboratory hoods.
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Early alchemists used fireplace chimneys, as fume hoods, to vent the noxious fumes created by their experiments. The practice of using chimneys for ventilation, and not a device specifically designed to remove dangerous fumes, continued until the early Twentieth century. The first recorded use of a modern-day fume hood is in 1923 at the University of Leeds in England. The first commercially available fume hood was developed, in 1936, by Labconco Corporation.
It’s not clear if the earliest fume hoods contained asbestos. But, based on manufacturing practices of that era, it is highly likely, that as more caustic chemicals were used in laboratory and industrial processes, asbestos was integrated into the lining of these early hoods. During World War II, the use of fume hoods became more popular. Their increase in popularity can be linked to significant advances in technology and advanced in the overall design of the devices.
Manufacturers of asbestos fume hoods hoods include Kewaunee Scientific Corporation, Longo Labs, Hamilton and Labconco. After the 1970s, researchers established clear connections between asbestos exposure and diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Since this period, the use of asbestos in fume hoods and laboratory hoods diminished in the United States.
College and university campuses across North America are known to have asbestos-containing fume hoods and laboratory hoods, many of which were still in place as late as 2012.
These schools include:
Modern fume hoods offer additional features such as fire proofing, high chemical resistance, energy efficiency and sensors and don’t likely contain asbestos. According to a 2006 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, approximately 750,000 fume hoods are installed across the United States.
Within older fume hood models, asbestos is primarily found in the hood liner, which was made of an asbestos-cement material known as transite. The use of asbestos in the lining made them more resistant to dangerous and corrosive chemicals. The exact percent of asbestos in fume hoods is unknown; however, transite contained an average of between 12% and 50% of Chrysotile asbestos.
Like other asbestos-containing products, fume hoods can remain completely safe as long as the hood liner is not damaged, exposing asbestos fibers. Such exposure could occur, for example, when a construction worker is removing a hood liner from a classroom laboratory and inadvertently damages it. This damage could ventilate the toxic fibers into the air, where they could then be inhaled or ingested.
This danger is limited because the handling of fume hoods liners is infrequent. When maintenance is required, it usually is made on the lighting or electrical portions of the fume or laboratory hood. According to industry documentation, annual inspections and certifications appear to be a commonplace for many brands of fume hoods. This provides an opportunity to regularly investigate the condition of the hood and look into whether the product is damaged or not.
Furthermore, universities, private laboratories and industrial manufacturers likely have countless safety guidelines designed to minimize potential safety hazards including asbestos exposure. Furthermore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlines guidelines, including OSHA’s Laboratory standard (29 CFR 1910.1450), that dictate safety requirements by employers, institutions and agencies that minimize related risk.
If you are an industrial worker, researcher, scientist, student, janitor and or other staff member who occupied a workspace that had known asbestos exposure, it is recommended that you seek medical attention. Mesothelioma, lung cancer asbestosis and other diseases and cancers are directly correlated with asbestos exposure and can take up to 50 years after inhalation to manifest.
Fume hoods hoods have evaded any asbestos-related litigation, despite their contamination. To date, there are no known lawsuits directly tied to asbestos exposure through a fume or laboratory hood.This ma, partially, be because damage to fume hoods is significantly less likely compared to other consumer products like clutches or gaskets that require frequent maintenance and replacement. However, asbestos-diseases have a latency period that often exceeds multiple decades and it is therefore possible that lawsuits stemming from these products are yet to come.
Anyone who worked in an environment that contained a fume or laboratory hood that may be damaged should proactively seek medical attention to receive screenings for asbestos-related diseases, as a precautionary.
Fast Fact: The estimated annual operating cost of fume and laboratory hoods in the United States is nearly $4.2 billion. The peak electrical demand of those hoods is approximately 5,100 megawatts.
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