Updated: Apr 6, 2022
IS YOUR LABORATORY READY FOR THE HELIUM SHORTAGE?
As you may be aware, there is an international shortage of helium that may persist for some time. Here are some actions that labs can take to manage reduced helium supplies and maintain laboratory operations.
Determine which testing methods absolutely require the use of helium. Prioritizing test methods and preparing for shortages will minimize impacts to laboratory operations.
Contact your helium supplier to prepare for delivery delays and determine how much helium they can provide.
Determine if switching to an alternate carrier gas is more prudent for your laboratory as soon as possible. Because this shortage may persist, changing carrier gas may enable your laboratory to continue service or assist other laboratories when supplies are low.
The alternative gasses:
Hydrogen, which has been through Alternate Test Procedure (ATP) program review with US EPA.
Nitrogen, which would need to go through ATP review.
Using Alternate Carrier Gas
The processes to switch to an alternate carrier gas takes time and will require the following steps:
New method validation and/or verification
Training laboratory staff
New Standard Operating Procedures
Potentially installing new gas lines and other internal components
Consulting with your building operator; there are specific requirements in the California Building Code and California Fire Code that will need to be considered
We reached out to California ELAP and asked them “Does changing carrier gas trigger another assessment and an amendment application?”
The answer is no. Although changing carrier gas requires method validation and a new proficiency test, an assessment and amendment application is not required.
Related research: An Investigation into the Use of Alternate Carrier Gases for the Determination of Volatile Organic Compounds in Water by GC–MS (spectroscopyonline.com), Robert Thomas, Roger Bardsley, Lee Marotta, Jacob Rebholz, Tom Hartlein, February 28, 2015, Spectroscopy Supplements, Special Issues-03-01-2015, Volume 13, Issue 1.
Table 1: Brief comparison of performance capability of helium, hydrogen and nitrogen.
Cylinder or Generator
Cylinder or Generator
Wide to Narrow Bore
If your instrument doesn't already offer conservation mode to conserve helium, you can try this hack: add a split valve to the helium line and attach a nitrogen tank. Run nitrogen through the system while the instrument is idle. You'll just need to stabilize the instrument, removing all nitrogen from the MS chamber, before analyzing samples.
Lastly, verify your laboratory’s quality management system process to regularly check for supplies and materials to ensure helium and other supplies don’t go dangerously low to prevent your laboratory’s efficient operations.
Relevant TNI Standard language regarding supplies and resources, in EL-V1M2-2016-Rev. 2.1:
“The laboratory shall have a policy and procedure(s) for the selection and purchasing of services and supplies it uses that affect the quality of the tests and/or calibrations. Procedures shall exist for the purchase, reception and storage of reagents and laboratory consumable materials relevant for the tests and calibrations.” Plus, additional sections under 4.6 Purchasing Services and Supplies.
“The laboratory shall:
a) “have managerial and technical personnel who, irrespective of other responsibilities, have the authority and resources needed to carry out their duties, including the implementation, maintenance and improvement of the management system, and to identify the occurrence of departures from the management system or from the procedures for performing tests and/or calibrations, and to initiate actions to prevent or minimize such departures (see also Section 5.2);
h) “have technical management which has overall responsibility for the technical operations and the provision of the resources needed to ensure the required quality of laboratory operations;”
”The quality manual shall contain or reference:
j) “procedures for ensuring that the laboratory reviews all new work to ensure that it has the appropriate facilities and resources before commencing such work;”
“The laboratory shall establish and maintain procedures for the review of requests, tenders and contracts. The policies and procedures for these reviews leading to a contract for testing and/or calibration shall ensure that:
b) “the laboratory has the capability and resources to meet the requirements;”
“In accordance with a predetermined schedule and procedure, the laboratory's top management shall periodically conduct a review of the laboratory's management system and testing and/or calibration activities to ensure their continuing suitability and effectiveness, and to introduce necessary changes or improvements. The review shall take account of:
“other relevant factors, such as quality control activities, resources, and staff training.”
Do you have additional tips for managing the helium shortage? Let us know and we’ll share them on the CSEA website, www.calanalysts.org.
If your laboratory is experiencing difficulties managing the impacts of this helium shortage, reach out to the ELAP at email@example.com as soon as possible.