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Air Sampling Method Selection Guide

Air. It’s something you encounter every second of every day. “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” OK, technically for you Star Wars fans out there the previous statements were made by Obi-Wan Kenobi referring to The Force but you get the idea. We’re surrounded by air and unless you have to figure out a way to capture a sample of it for analysis, you probably haven’t given it much thought.

The Basics

Air is comprised of approximately 78.1% nitrogen, 21.0% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases.  It also contains moisture in the form of water vapor.  Humidity is the measure of the amount of water vapor in the air. Higher humidity values mean that the air contains more water vapor.

Types of Air

There are various methods that allow you to collect air for analysis when you want to determine the air quality and see what pollutants are present.  Some of the collection methods capture what are called “whole air” samples using a canister or a gas sampling bag.  Some methods capture a sample of the air on sorbents (like Tenax®, charcoal or XAD®) or purge the air through a solution which captures the analytes of interest in the solution.

To further complicate matters, the method that you use for collection may be dependent upon the type of air that you are collecting.  For the purposes of environmental sampling, air is commonly split into three types: source emissions, ambient, and industrial hygiene/indoor air. Source emissions are the emissions from what is called a stationary source such as a smokestack from an industrial plant or factory.  Industrial hygiene or indoor air refers to the air that you are exposed to while at your place of work.  This type of air is focused on personal exposure and the air within a person’s breathing zone.  Ambient air is really the rest of the air not covered by the previous two categories.  It’s the outside air or the air within a building but not right in a person’s breathing zone.

Sampling Method Selection

Once you know what problem you are trying to solve or know what compounds of interest you want to analyze, you have to choose a sample collection method.  This is an important step because you have to make sure that the method you choose is for the correct type of air and appropriate for the compound you want to report.  If you have a long list of compounds that you are interested in, you may have to collect several samples using different types of sorbents and collection methods.  Figuring out what is the appropriate method is not always a simple process.

The purpose of this method selection guide is to assist you in determining appropriate method for sample collection. This method selection guide will primarily focus on the collection methods established by US-EPA, NIOSH, and OSHA as these methods are generally considered to be the industry standards worldwide.  Although there are other air sampling methods established by other countries, most notably in Germany in Japan, many of them are very similar to the US methods.

Click [+/-] to see the Stationary Source and Ambient Sampling Methods.

Aldehydes/ketones [+/-]

Ammonia [+/-]

Anions [+/-]

Atmospheric gases [+/-]

Dioxin/Furan (PCDD/PCDF) [+/-]

Hydrogen cyanide [+/-]

Isocyanates [+/-]

Lead [+/-]

Mercury [+/-]

Metals [+/-]

Methanol [+/-]

N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) [+/-]

Non-methane organic compounds (NMOC) [+/-]

Particulates [+/-]

Pesticides [+/-]

Phenol and methyl phenols (cresols) [+/-]

Phosgene [+/-]

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) [+/-]

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [+/-]

Semi-volatile organics (SVOCs) [+/-]

Sulfur gases [+/-]

Volatile Organics (VOCs) [+/-]

Ready to Sample

Once you’ve determined the method(s) you need for sampling, you may need collection media or equipment to collect the sample. The table lists some of the basic sample media needed. And, you may also need to identify a laboratory that can perform the analyses.

KeikaVentures can assist you with all phases of your project.

  • We can assist you in choosing a method that will give you the results you need.
  • We can rent or sell the equipment needed to collect the samples
  • We can arrange for the sampling media you need to arrive before you head to the field to collect samples
  • We can provide a quotation for the laboratory analyses and track the samples through the lab making sure you get the results you need and when you need them.

Feel free to contact us at if we may be of any assistance.

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