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From Air Compressors to Vacuums: Building Equipment that Moves Life Science Companies Forward in New York City

Life science companies work with hazardous materials, such as chemicals and biological agents, when developing therapeutics, medical devices, and other innovations. They also use specialized equipment with specific settings and requirements. As a result, a life science building, and the facilities within, must have specific types of equipment so companies can conduct their work in a productive and safe manner.

Air Compressors

Air compressors are used to operate various types of laboratory equipment and also have clean room applications, such as pressurization airlocks. A building owner can opt for a central compressor that services all tenants, or smaller units in each tenant facility. In the latter scenario, important considerations include who is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the air compressor, and whether it is located in an area that is part of the tenant’s leased space. Air compressors must be operated and maintained by someone with an A-35 Certificate of Fitness.


Life science companies require emergency power in the event of an outage to maintain the temperature, humidity, and other environmental parameters required for biological samples that are critical for research. For this reason, emergency generators are integral to life science buildings. It is important to delineate who is responsible for the permitting and maintenance of the generators, because portable generators require registration with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Clean Air Tracking System (CATS) if they exceed listed thresholds, and stationary generators require CATS registration, an industrial work permit, and a certificate to operate. The fuel used to run the generators is regulated by the FDNY and requires a flammable and combustible liquids permit and a  C-92 Certificate of Fitness.

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

It is almost impossible to conduct safe life science work without sufficient air supply and exhaust provided by a functioning HVAC system. The New York City (NYC) Mechanical Code stipulates that laboratories must have a minimum ventilation rate of 1 cubic foot per minute per square foot (CPM/ft2) and the NYC Fire Department (FDNY) requests documentation that there are sufficient air exchange rates in laboratory areas. Adequate ventilation is vital for local ventilation equipment such as fume hoods and snorkels, and it modulates the temperature in areas where heat-producing equipment, such as freezers, is located.

Local Ventilation (Fume Hoods)

Fume hoods are a form of local ventilation used to protect the worker and others in the vicinity from exposure to hazardous chemical vapors, dusts, and particulates. They can also be used for the accumulation and temporary storage of hazardous waste generated at or near the hood. Since ducted fume hoods must be connected to a building’s HVAC system, they tend to become part of a laboratory’s infrastructure and are rarely moved when a company relocates.

According to OSHA’s Lab Standard, fume hoods must function properly and they must be maintained to ensure adequate performance. As required by the NYC Fire Code, fume hood face velocities must be between 80 to 120 feet per minutes (fpm), and they must be inspected and certified annually by an accredited vendor.

pH Neutralization Systems

Corrosive liquids are prohibited from being discharged into the sewer system without being thoroughly neutralized or treated in accordance with the NYC Plumbing Code and NYC DEP Use of the Public Sewers regulations. Since life science companies commonly use corrosives, such as bleach to treat biological liquid waste before disposing it into the sewer system, buildings should either install pH neutralization systems to neutralize wastewater or ensure that tenants install their own systems. The entity that is responsible for the neutralization system must confirm if they require a DEP Industrial Wastewater Discharge Permit.

If the pH neutralization system is owned and maintained by the building, the building owner should provide tenants with procedures and policies so that they do not release prohibited materials, such as oils and flammable liquids, into the sewer. The policy can also include measures to prevent items such as pipette tips from entering the neutralization system, since they can clog pipes and disrupt wastewater flow.


Life science companies usually require vacuums to aspirate biological liquids or to operate various types of equipment. A building can provide a large vacuum system for all tenants in the building, vacuum pumps for each tenant, or the tenant can be responsible for supplying their own local vacuum pumps.

If the building owns and maintains vacuum pumps for tenants, the building owner should implement procedures, such as the installation of inline filters, to prevent hazardous material from being drawn into the system.

Life science companies need well-functioning laboratories to effectively conduct research for the development of new therapeutic treatments and other innovations, which in turn, requires specialized equipment. Building owners play an integral role by providing the equipment and the infrastructure, such as HVAC systems, so laboratories can operate productively and safely. They also provide critical oversight by delineating responsibilities and communicating expectations, so tenants comply with regulations and building policies.

For additional information on life science building equipment at your facility, please contact us!

This blog was written by Rae Moore, Safety Partners’ Senior Quality, Research, and Training Specialist

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