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University of Colorado Denver

Environmental Health and Safety, University of Colorado Denver

Vacuum System Protection

Protection of the Laboratory Vacuum System

Never use the building vacuum lines/system to exhaust fumes, remove waste, or any other activity with the potential of contaminating and/or damaging the vacuum system.  Consider how you will prevent gases and liquids from being drawn into equipment and the building vacuum line when you design your procedures.

 Precautions are imperative for the:

·         Uninterrupted service of building vacuum system

·         Longevity of vacuum pumps (of building system or lab equipment pumps)

·         Laboratory personnel safety

·         Maintenance worker safety

Biological Vacuum Line Protection-

It is importnat to protect the building vacuum system during aspiration of any tissue culture media, infectious fluids, or potentially infectious fluids using the system illustrated below.

  • The first suction flask (A) is used to collect the fluids into a suitable disinfectant or for autoclave decontamination.
  • The second flask (B) serves as a fluid overflow collection vessel and to minimize splatter (do not add liquid to flask B when setting up system).
  • An in-line HEPA filter (C) is used to protect the vacuum system (D) from aerosolized microorganisms.  

CDC/NIH Guidelines for Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) state that vacuum lines should be protected with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, or their equivalent. Filters must be replaced as needed. Liquid disinfectant traps may be required.  Check with the Biosafety Officer if you are working in BSL3 or BSL2+ for specific protocol.



CDC/NIH Primary Containment for Biohazards: Selection, Installation and Use of Biological Safety Cabinets, 2nd Edition

Chemical/Physical Vacuum Line Protection-

HEPA filters do not work for radiological, chemical vapor or liquids filtration.  Design of proper safe guards or controls for procedures or equipment with a potential for accidental intake of chemical liquids or vapors into vacuum systems is dependent on many variables.  Procedural controls, traps, or filters for equipment or laboratory processes should be developed specifically for each different protocol or equipment.  Design must take into consideration:

  • the specific properties of the chemicals involved,
  • the specific process/procedure,
  • the pressures that will be generated,
  • pressure vessel materials/construction, and
  • the equipment to be used.

If unsure, contact EHS for assistance developing controls to prevent accidental intake of materials to vacuum lines, avoid chemical vapor release to lab, and reduce risks from physical hazards. 

General Safety Procautions-

Vacuum systems can result in implosion with a potential for flying glass, chemicals spills and fire.  Care must be taken whenever setting up a new system.  Do not create a vacuum on a completely air tight sealed vessel (such as a glass flask or other non permeable container) without a pressure release safety mechanism or specific administrative controls and safeguards.  Glass vessels should be wrapped in tape and careful consideration needs to be given to the placement and use of these vessels to avoid injury.  Equipment at reduced pressure is especially prone to rapid pressure change and this can force liquids through an apparatus to unwanted locations.  Procedures should be carried out within a hood, wearing proper PPE.  Engineered pressure release controls are advised for high pressure systems and equipment.


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