Developing a Protocol for Addressing Risks from Laboratory Chemical Emissions at an Urban University Campus

John Alberico, RWDI
Noga Levit, The University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, is a large mixed-use campus with academic, research and residential buildings in line with their live-learn-work philosophy. Future plans for the campus involve an increase in the number of residences in close proximity to many of UBC's laboratories. This presents an institutional risk for health and odor impacts from laboratory exhausts due to differing levels of susceptibility of the general population compared to a healthy work force, and the different design and operations of residential compared to laboratories. Furthermore, the institution must balance the risk to the general population versus energy savings afforded by reducing ventilation demands in the laboratories. This risk needs to be assessed, quantified and controlled to minimize negative effects on nearby residents.

UBC jointly with RWDI have developed a protocol for assessing risk from laboratory emissions to current and future residential buildings around the campus. The protocol requires an atmospheric dispersion modeling study for laboratory emissions that goes beyond ordinary dispersion studies and regulatory requirements. The modeling is based on the EPA model CALPUFF plus meteorological input from the mesoscale Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. The enhanced dispersion modeling more accurately accounts for the unique water/land surroundings at UBC which is located along the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. The modeling also includes the effect of atmospheric stability for exhaust plumes that travel well above the roof of the laboratory building or across the campus. Mesoscale effects and atmospheric stability are not handled with routine wind tunnel testing or simple numerical dispersion models. Furthermore, detailed meteorological data are used to define probabilities of impacts from varying wind directions, wind speeds and stability classes.

The protocol also addresses large accidental releases at loading docks, and both typical short-term and long-term releases from chemical fume hoods. Chemical health criteria for accidental, acute (1-hour), chronic (annual) and cancer were compiled for more than 1,000 chemicals (gases and liquids) to assess health impacts. Special models were developed to allow for the assessment of each of these scenarios. The protocol discusses how the results of the dispersion study and chemical analysis should be presented to UBC officials and the public in terms of potential hazards and risk.

The protocol can be applied to other universities and large facilities where exposures to the general public and residences are a concern especially in an urban setting that includes high-rise residential buildings.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the risks faced by institutions due to laboratory emissions in close proximity to residential buildings.
  • Learn about the types of laboratory emissions from chemical fume hoods including typical short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) releases.
  • Gain an understanding of the enhanced dispersion modeling used to assess the impact of laboratory emissions that goes beyond ordinary dispersion studies and regulatory requirements.
  • Outline a protocol that can assess the risk of laboratory emissions, both acute and chronic, on the general public, which can be applied to other institutions.


John Alberico is a Project Director specializing in air quality & microclimate assessments. He joined RWDI in 1988, and became a Principal in 2004. He is a Canadian Certified Environmental Professional and has a M.Sc. from the University of Guelph. He provides overall technical direction to engineering teams ensuring that a high level of service is provided and RWDI's interests are preserved on all projects.

Noga Levit is the UBC Risk Management Services, Director of Environmental Services. She received her MBA from Durham University, UK in 2013, a M.Sc. in Human Environmental Sciences in 1984, and a B.Sc. in Biology in 1982 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mr. levit has 30+ years of diverse HSE working experience including the HSE advisor for UBC's Dept. of Chemistry, as an Environmental & Chemical Safety Advisor, Environmental Services Manager and the Director of Environmental Services.


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