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Air Testing – Simplified!

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With the original adoption of NFPA 1989, requirements for breathing air were consolidated into a single document. Prior to the creation of NFPA 1989 information relating to breathing air quality could be found in three different NFPA documents, NFPA 1500, NFPA 1981 and NFPA 1404.

Prior to NFPA 1989 departments testing the quality of their breathing air were using standards established by the Compressed Gas Association (CGA). Typically, a Fire Department testing its breathing air for structural firefighting requested a Compressed Gas Association (CGA) Grade D analysis. With the inception of NFPA 1989 that should have changed.  The latest edition of NFPA 1989, 2008 edition became effective December 31st, 2007. Yet it appears that there is still limited knowledge and use of the new standard. Most references heard today still include CGA Grade D as the standard.

NFPA 1989, 2008 ed. has several requirements that differ from the CGA Grade D. First, the oil content for the air has been reduced from 5 to 2 mg/m3 and the carbon monoxide limit has been reduced from 10 to 5 ppm. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) are not evaluated in CGA Grade D air while a threshold limit has been established at 25 ppm by NFPA 1989. CGA Grade D air included a requirement for dew point and water vapor by specifying that the characteristics of CGA Grade L be addressed when the air was used for SCBA. NFPA 1989 2008 ed. has a specific characteristic for water concentration established at 24 ppm.  The 24 ppm correlates directly to the dew point measurement of -65 F required with CGA Grade D. Lastly, NFPA 1989 includes a requirement relating to the nitrogen content which is required to be between 75 and 81 percent.

An interesting fact about NFPA 1989 is that it specifically does not include diving. NFPA 1989, 1.3.4 addresses several areas in which the new standard is not applicable including industrial application, utility applications, pneumatic processes, cleaning drying, inflating and diving.

What do I need to know? First, if your operations are focused around firefighting and the use of SCBA then you should request that your breathing air be tested to meet the requirements specified in NFPA 1989 2008 edition, not CGA Grade D.  Second, if you are involved in dive operations the requirements in NFPA 1989 2008 edition are not intended for your operations. SCUBA operations would still fall under the CGA Grade E requirements.

If a department choses a CGA Grade E analysis and is using the air for SCBA operations the risk is related to the presence of water in the air. In a CGA E analysis water concentration is not evaluated thus, there is the potential for high levels of water concentration in the air which can lead to regulators freezing up, an issue not associated with SCUBA operations.  With regard to the NFPA 1989 test, as mentioned earlier, the test is not designed for SCUBA operations. If you are department supporting both types of operations, SCBA and SCUBA, what should you do since neither test satisfies both circumstances?

At Safe Air Systems we recognized the dilemma and took it to our friends at Lawrence Factor Lab. The result, Lawrence Factor’s latest air analysis option, a single test that covers both the requirements of NFPA 1989, 2008 edition and CGA Grade  E. With this choice you now have a single test option that will cover the requirements of two industries. This single test simplifies the issue and makes obtaining and maintaining compliance less of a headache.

Because there always seems to be some confusion about air testing and the requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Safe Air Systems. Our professional staff is here to assist you with all aspects of developing and maintaining a quality breathing air program.


(Previous Chart was removed due to new CGA Standards update 10/13/11)



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