Tag Archives: mass spec safety

Mass Spec Lab Safety: Electrical Hazards

Electricity represents both a necessity and a danger in every lab. In this second part of our “back to basics” mass spec safety series, we review more of the various types of lab safety issues one can encounter when operating mass spec technology.

In part one, we covered mechanical hazards. This time around, we will discuss the electrical hazards associated with mass spectrometry.

Internal Voltage Hazards

When functioning properly, some areas of mass spectrometers can expose operators to lethal voltage levels. High voltages can remain within a mass spec even when it is powered off, and capacitors can remain charged even though the instrument has been disconnected from all power sources.

As your MS literature undoubtedly says, do not use this instrument “in a manner not prescribed.” If your mass spec is not operating properly, do not take it apart to investigate it yourself. Call in either the professionals who manufactured your MS or a qualified repair technician.

Lab Safety Interlocks and Shields

Because of the danger of such high voltages, mass spectrometers have protective covers or shields to prevent lab techs from accessing the ion source probes. Do not power up or operate your MS unless those protective shields have been properly installed. Interlocks have also been integrated into your mass spec as a lab safety feature to prevent electrical shock. Do not override those interlocks.

When it’s time for routine maintenance, disconnect the ion source from the mass spec. Removing the ion-source housing will disable the high-voltage connection. Beware, however: As mentioned earlier, MS capacitors can remain charged even when your mass spec is disconnected from its power source.

Grounding Hazards

The mass spectrometer was developed long before grounded electrical outlets were required (and hopefully none of your mass specs are that old), but it would never be wise to operate your modern MS today without a correctly installed protective earth conductor.

Always have your electrical outlets checked by a qualified electrician before installing a mass spectrometer and make certain that the protective earth system maintains its integrity. (In fact, it’s an excellent idea to have all outlets in your lab checked at the time of installation, as you may need to rearrange your lab at some point in the future and plug your MS into a different outlet.) Operating an ungrounded mass spec effectively turns the entire instrument into a lab safety hazard.

Electrical Circuit Protection and Hazards

Your mass spec has been designed for operation with a specific electrical mains supply. If you operate the instrument with an improper mains or insufficient circuit protection, multiple lab safety issues will arise: You could damage the electrical wiring system. You could cause an electrical fire—possibly within the walls of your lab, where it would be extremely difficult to suppress. And you could damage your expensive mass spectrometer.

Before installing or operating any mass spectrometer, make certain that the branch circuit protection satisfies the requirements of your MS system. Also confirm that your mass spec voltage matches the mains supply coming into your lab.

Mass Spec Safety Starts with You

Electricity is a powerful resource—and with any power comes real danger. As we’ve said throughout this series, complacency is itself a lab safety hazard. Do not take electricity for granted. Periodically return to the basics and remind yourself of electricity’s potential hazards in a lab setting.

For help in grounding your mass spectrometer on the most stable platform possible, learn more about our IonBench MS, or contact us at 1-888-669-1233 with any questions you may have about mass spec safety or our dedicated lab furniture.

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.