Back to Basics: Mechanical Mass Spec Safety Reminders

reminder notesRecently we got “back to basics” with reminders about the importance of common lab safety issues and the dangers of becoming complacent.

The same complacency can happen when working specifically with a mass spec. Here’s a reminder of safety issues that can arise in any lab, starting with mass spectrometer mechanical hazards.

Hot Hazards

Your mass spec gets hot when it works. In fact, the ion source probe can exceed a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius in some machines, due to gas flow and temperature settings. This means you must allow at least 10 minutes after your protocol is finished before removing the ion source and probe.

Heavy Hazards

Your mass spectrometer is not designed to be lifted and carried around, which is why our IonBench MS is designed with strong casters that can withstand the weight of your mass spec.

To avoid a lab accident, do not lift or transfer your mass spectrometer without the help of qualified service personnel. If your mass spec is not on a wheeled lab bench, check its weight in the safety materials provided with your instrument, and it bears repeating to be certain to obtain qualified help for moving it. Remember that not only do you risk injuring your back from lifting such heavy equipment, but you could also damage the instrument through rough handling.

Outflow Hazards

Materials that flow into your mass spectrometer also flow out. Your mass spec’s drain vessel will collect discharge from the ion source, and this effluent could contain acidic, caustic, or dangerous organic elements. Residual trace amounts of the solutions you analyzed could also be present, posing a lab safety issue.

In addition, when using your mass spec there are potential hazards associated with the exhaust. Exhaust gases must be safely vented through the source system to avoid any discharge of toxic materials.

Gas Hazards

Gases pose a lab safety hazard because they are stored in pressurized containers. Those containers have explosive potential, especially if you are careless about where they are set or stored.

Make certain flammable gases are never placed near an area where open flames are generated, nor stored near instruments or devices that generate heat, such as the coils of your freezer or the vents of your lab’s HVAC system.

Nitrogen Hazards

Nitrogen gas is of particular concern and worth a separate mention as it is commonly used in mass specs. Nitrogen is neither explosive nor combustible, meaning that it does not pose the same types of dangers mentioned above. However, nitrogen gas will displace oxygen if it is allowed to escape, raising the possibility of suffocation, so proper storage of nitrogen is critical. If you have a dewar or generator in a confined space, consider an oxygen sensor/alarm.

Trace Hazards

Finally, residue from any hazardous or biohazardous materials that you have analyzed in your mass spectrometer can remain in trace amounts on your instrument. Always carefully clean the interface, vacuum chamber, and ion source. Contaminants can also end up in your pump oil, and thus also the oil exhaust filter.

Enhancing Mass Spec Safety

All of the above mass spec safety hazards can be mitigated to some degree. Using dedicated lab furniture that has been specifically designed for your mass spectrometer is one way to significantly reduce the possibility of accidents in your lab.

But mechanical hazards are just one aspect of mass spec safety. Our next post will address the electrical safety hazards posed by mass specs.

For more ideas on how you can address lab safety concerns, contact us today.