Hillsborough County's Lab Renewal Project Puts a Premium on Durability

A Florida testing laboratory uses polypropylene fume hoods and casework to deliver long life against test protocols that use corrosive chemicals.

Hillsborough County's Lab Renewal Project Puts a Premium on Durability

Polypropylene surfaces were chosen for durability against harsh chemical exposure, corrosion and impact.

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The Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission laboratory provides environmental impact testing for chemical analysis of air, water and sediment samples at local, state and federal levels.

Growing demand for the commission’s contracted services at the existing wastewater treatment facility made it necessary to upgrade all laboratories in the building. The final laboratory upgrade consisted of about 10,000 square feet, including dedicated space for organics, bacteriology, metals preparation, heavy metals, solids, dispensing and washing, and an open laboratory for basic oxygen and carbon testing.

As part of the project, the commission selected polypropylene fume hoods and casework with flame-retardant liner, supplied by LabAire Systems.

Need for protection

The Hillsborough County (Florida) facility conducts a wide variety of procedures including metal analysis and BOD and TOC testing. Corrosive chemicals such as acids, bases and volatile compounds are used in the analyses, making safety a priority: Workers must be protected from fumes produced by these chemicals.

Those same chemicals can eventually cause significant damage to metal fume hoods and to traditional casework made of metal or wood. Because of the varying procedures and chemicals used, some rooms in the laboratory had to be separated by ventilation zones to minimize potential for cross-contamination.

The new laboratory and equipment also needed to meet the certification standards of the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program for the Clean Water Act. 

LabAire Systems worked with the commission to understand the laboratory’s protocols and identify the chemicals that might produce toxic fumes and vapors. Through this process the company raised concerns about several chemicals that had combustible characteristics.

As a result, LabAire recommended lining all fume hoods with flame-retardant materials to meet current UL and NFPA safety codes. Bernie Chilton, project manager for Walbridge, the general contractor, states, “LabAire was selected to supply the fume hoods and casework based on their ability to understand the customer’s applications and deliver on schedule.” 

Space for collaboration

LabAire proposed an open laboratory design for most of the facility to enable researchers to collaborate in a cross-disciplinary manner. Several smaller rooms were also equipped with custom fume hood solutions for specialty procedures requiring isolation.

Polypropylene was chosen for its durability to withstand harsh chemical exposure and corrosion and to resist impact. The investment provided long-term value by eliminating the need to replace metal or wood equivalents that could rust, corrode and deteriorate.

The 250 pieces of casework were fabricated from Vycom half-inch white stress-relieved polypropylene. Its all-polypropylene construction included hinges, fasteners and adjusting hardware for maximum chemical resistance.

Much of the casework was selected from standard sizes, but several custom-designed modules for special use were created. Fully recessed door and drawer pulls created a streamlined aesthetic for the laboratory. Cabinets requiring transparent chemical storage were equipped with clear polycarbonate panels in the doors. Work surfaces and counter tops were fabricated from epoxy resin, an especially inert material with high chemical and corrosion resistance. 

LabAire provided a combination of 14 standard and custom-sized fume hoods specific for each laboratory protocol. Each fume hood was fabricated with a custom, flame-retardant liner to meet the FM4910 flammability standard.

A combination of variable-air-volume and constant-air-volume fume hoods in the main laboratory were supplied in 6- or 8-foot widths. The smaller procedure rooms were equipped with 4-foot-wide fume hoods, and a custom 12-foot fume hood was designed to accommodate a sequential process in the washing room.

NFPA-compliant flammable storage cabinets for chemicals were provided in several locations. In addition to the cabinets, several polypropylene mobile work carts were provided.

Meeting the challenges

The architect for the project was Long & Associates. To meet the laboratory’s specialty needs, LabAire worked with the commission staff to understand their challenges. That led to the recommendation for polypropylene casework, accessories and fume hoods to provide years of reliable, corrosion-resistant service.

Stephen Ward, of the Steve Ward and Associates installation contracting firm, notes, “LabAire shared and exemplified our principles of forward thinking, planned execution, and effective communication through all project phases, helping to get the project done on time and on budget.”

About the author

Kevin R. Murphy (kmurphy@labairesystems.com) is national sales manager for LabAire Systems, a manufacturer of fume hoods, casework and other containment solutions for highly corrosive environments.   


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