Limiting Risk of Formaldehyde Exposure in a Large Scale Gross Anatomy Lab

Sean Convery, Cator, Ruma & Associates
Brad Cochran, CPP

The growing health care industry has created a need for new, state-of-the-art gross anatomy teaching laboratories at educational institutions. At Colorado State University, this need resulted in the funding and design of a gross anatomy lab as part of an addition to their Anatomy/Zoology building. The project goal was a laboratory with 36 cadaver stations to support approximately 150 students during a single class. A priority for CSU was to have a completely open space that would not hinder the instructor's line of sight to all students. Down-draft tables with vertical exhaust duct drops would block the instructor's view, but the desired open layout without downdraft tables had a higher risk of formaldehyde exposure. To limit the risk of exposure to students and faculty, a series of computational fluid dynamic (CFD) models was performed to test several ventilation options.

This presentation will discuss formaldehyde exposure limits and how different agencies have varying concentration thresholds (ppm); and how those different concentrations impacted the owner's desired layout compared to the design team's recommended alternative layout. The presentation will show how CFD modeling was used to inform the owner of the projected concentrations (ppm) of formaldehyde at the occupant breathing zones for two ventilation configurations. As the delivery method of this project was "Design/Build Lump Sum," keeping first cost low while maintaining a safe environment and energy-efficient solution were all competing factors that made the project challenging. Additionally, with such high air change rates and large ductwork to move the air, the greatest difficulty was fitting all systems into ceiling plenums while aligning the floor-to-floor heights with the original building. Lastly, the presentation will discuss the energy-saving measures implemented in this project, including energy recovery, storage of cadavers in coolers at night and unoccupied setback of air change rates.

Learning Objectives

  • Formaldehyde Exposure Limits and the wide range of published standards.
  • Managing Risk while pursuing the project in a design/build lump sum design competition delivery method.
  • CFD modeling of gross anatomy labs.
  • Energy savings opportunities for a very high air change rate laboratory.


Sean T. Convery, PE is a Mechanical Principal at Cator, Ruma and Associates in Denver, CO and a founding Board Member of the Colorado I2SL Chapter. His 23 years of mechanical design experience include energy-efficient mechanical systems for wet and dry research labs, veterinary medicine facilities, and higher education campuses. To date, he has been involved in the design of over 70 lab projects, many of them Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3). He has been a speaker at several I2SL National Conferences.

Mr. Brad Cochran, PE, is a Principal and Director of Air Quality Services for CPP Wind Engineering. He has over 25 years of experience conducting dispersion modeling studies for laboratory, hospital, and data center ventilation design. Over the past decade, Brad has developed new design techniques to minimize the energy requirements for laboratory exhaust stacks through VAV technologies. He has successfully designed and employed VAV exhaust systems for more than 100 laboratory systems throughout the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He has authored and presented several papers on laboratory exhaust design.


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