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Everyday work with cancer-causing or toxic materials is unavoidable in many laboratories. There exists a corresponding danger that the workers involved can become sick as a result of respiratory illnesses they might contract. An important protective measure is therefore an efficient exchange of air in the laboratory. The German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Medicine (BAUA) demands fundamentally that for every square metre of floor space, 25 cubic metres of air are exchanged every hour. As a result, laboratories in Germany must be equipped with correspondingly large ventilation systems. Because a human being only breathes in around half a cubic metre of air per hour, a high dilution, and therefore a correspondingly high degree of safety, is thereby provided for, even when toxic materials are being released into it. If it is possible to prove that there is no resulting increase in risk, the BAUA will also allow for a reduced - or even just a natural - level of air ventilation. This brings short-term benefits and saves thousands of Euros.
Conventionally, the rate of air exchange is used as a measure for gauging and evaluating air exchange. It compares the amount of air entering or leaving a room (over an hour) with the volume of air space physically located there. The Air Exchange Rate (AER) is then the resulting given ratio. An AER of 8 therefore means that all the air in a room is fully exchanged some 8 times, during the space of one hour. Exactly how much air per hour and square metre that represents, is dependent upon the ceiling height of the room. If a room has a ceiling height of 3 metres - as is the case in many laboratories - it results, approximately, in an air exchange of 25m3 /m2 h, as demanded by the BAUA. Therefore, an AER of 8 (more exactly, 8.33) is often used as the general yardstick for laboratories. To clarify further: if the ceiling height is only 2 metres, the total spatial room volume of air would have to be exchanged some 12.5 times per hour, in order to achieve the required 25m3 /m2 h.
Usually, there is of course a basic wish to keep the amount of air exchanged as low as possible, without correspondingly endangering the health of personnel. This, because the annual costs of exchanging all the air in a laboratory are quite considerable, as the following example involving a laboratory with a floor space of 120m2 , that is running around the clock, shows:
• Air Exchange Rate (AER): 25m3/m2h
• Laboratory Area: 120m2
• Daily Time for Air Exchange: 24h
• Annual Time for Air Exchange: 365d