Regular replacement of truck cab air filters helps protect drivers by enhancing air quality

March 5, 2015
  A MODERN oilfield is an example of a dynamic environment that must accommodate the constant operation of a multitude of heavy-duty vehicles performing very specific tasks. Many oilfields are located in remote areas subjected to some of the harshest environments on the planet.

A MODERN oilfield is an example of a dynamic environment that must accommodate the constant operation of a multitude of heavy-duty vehicles performing very specific tasks. Many oilfields are located in remote areas subjected to some of the harshest environments on the planet.

Onsite at an oilfield there can be several layers of traffic operating at any one time. The different types of heavy-duty equipment not only create a site that may seem at times to be in constant motion, but, considering the 24/7/365 schedule in most cases, there is always a piece of equipment running or a vehicle moving from point A to point B.

In most cases, a heavy-duty truck cab air filter can be replaced in less than 15 minutes.

From the core drilling rigs, service trucks, and power generators to transport trucks, fuel haulers and tankers, there is no shortage of shovels, tires, and engines stirring up dust or pushing emissions or contaminants into the air.

In an industry this cost- and production-intensive, keeping the equipment operating is a critical concern for oilfield operators every day of the production cycle. Considering that maintenance and downtime are a constant top priority, the health of the driver/operator comes into play every time someone gets behind the wheel.

Nasty conditions

Many oilfield sites operate in severe weather conditions with huge amounts of airborne contaminants assaulting the vehicle or the equipment’s operating systems on a daily basis. Trucks delivering materials or hauling product off-site must drive into and out of the surrounding work zone, often accessing the site via rough, dusty, and unpaved roads that can present their own air quality issues. This makes the truck cab filter media very important for trapping those airborne contaminants before cabin occupants can breathe them.

While filter performance and durability are thought of as critical for the powertrain and supporting systems, a quality cabin air filter may actually be the most important filter, because it protects the driver.

A tank transport working in any oilfield operation may be exposed to a number of toxic substances, chemicals, and vehicle exhaust fumes. According to a 2014 BioMed Central report1 “High Air Pollution Levels Near Unconventional Oil and Gas Production Sites,” three chemicals most commonly found to exceed recommended levels were benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and formaldehyde. Any one of these dangerous contaminants could be present on any given day as drivers conduct their daily work.

The potential for airborne contaminants and vehicle exhaust fumes may all contribute to poor air quality and potential respiratory problems, from a simple cough to watery eyes or headache. The constant exposure to vehicle emissions is an accepted hazard of the bulk transport occupation, although it can be an especially high hurdle to overcome when the air contaminants that may be harmful cannot be distinguished through sight or smell.

Worker safety

The management of any fleet operation knows that keeping workers safe is a great way to save money and produce a positive bottom line. Comfortable equipment that is operating efficiently when you need it cannot only keep workers safe, but it can also keep the operation running smoothly by keeping more workers available every day.

When you consider that for those air contaminants that have distinct odors, by the time the operator has recognized the hazard, it has already entered the cabin and been inhaled into the respiratory system. Cabin air filters are as much about health and protecting vehicle operators and drivers as they are about comfort and efficiency. A healthy driver is a comfortable driver, and a comfortable driver is going to be more efficient.

Because bad air is not always something you can smell or see, a cabin air filter can provide a barrier to some of the most basic air contaminants and irritants. As many as one-in-six Americans currently suffer from asthma or some type of allergy caused by airborne contaminants. These conditions can be magnified when sitting in the cab of a vehicle that does not have proper air circulation or appropriate filtration.

Whether it is simply incoming fresh air, or air entering the cabin during the use of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC), the environment inside the cabin of a heavy-duty vehicle is subjected to assault from exhaust gases, pollen, bacteria, dirt, dust and soot. Any one of these contaminants may cause an allergic or adverse reaction with the driver.

In addition to the general air quality, a poorly ventilated cabin can also become covered in a fine layer of dust as the contaminants in the cabin settle on all of the interior surfaces, which allows the contaminants to remain in the cabin even longer.

Delivering a barrier from the wind, road noise, extreme temperatures and harsh rays of the sun, the cabin of a vehicle may offer the false impression it is also shielding the driver from the hazards of the surrounding air quality. A cabin air filter will provide the vehicle’s operating cabin space with a filtering barrier, much like the barrier provided by heating and air conditioning filters in a home.

Filter location

Typically located in the HVAC system of a vehicle, most cabin air filters are found at the outside air intake, where outside air goes through the filter before it comes into the cabin.

The increased awareness of allergy-sensitive people living in the United States, which according to the Filter Manufacturers Council is estimated at more than 40 million, may be the single-biggest reason for the cabin air filter getting so much recent attention. When you look at the opportunity for a front line of defense for occupants of the cabin, a functioning standard cabin air filter can remove up to 98% of (5-100 micron) particles before anyone ever breathes them.

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In the case of bulk transporters working around oilfield operations that may be exposed to potential contaminants for extensive periods of time, the cabin may be their only opportunity to find some reasonable breathing protection.

No matter who manufactures a cabin air filter, every filter eventually needs to be changed. It is important to change a filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or according to the original manufacturer’s recommendations. The good thing is that replacing a heavy-duty cabin air filter is a job that does not require hours—but only a matter of minutes as most cabin air filters can be changed in 15 minutes or less.

The typical signs that the cabin air filter may have become saturated with contaminants or plugged with debris can be seen in the volume of airflow being delivered throughout a cab. Windows that easily fog up and are hard to defrost can often be a first sign of potential filter saturation. In addition to contaminated air, cabin air filters that are plugged and have become moist may create an environment that encourages the growth of additional mildew and odors.

Removing odors

Cabin odors are an accepted norm for heavy-duty vehicle cabs. For many years, there have been filtration options that add heavy scents to hide odors. These options do not remove the odor, but merely mask its scent.

The most recent innovation for cabin air filters focuses on a higher level of comfort and safety for the driver/operator. Cabin air filters now offer the option of carbon-treated media, which doesn’t just disguise the odor, but actually filters it out.

Taking odor control to another level, filter manufacturer Luber-finer now offers a variant of the carbon-treated filter media that also adds Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. Designed to remove sub-micron and micron-sized particles, including dust and pollen particles ranging in size from 5 to 100 microns, the Luber-finer Extreme Clean cabin air filter minimizes contaminants while also eliminating intense odors. The Luber-finer Extreme Clean cabin air filter can filter 98% of these contaminants.    ♦

John Gaither is director of heavy-duty engineering for Luber-finer, Albion, Illinois. For more than 75 years Lube-finer has been providing filtration excellence for heavy-duty on-highway vehicles, vocational trucks, and off-road equipment.

About the Author

John Gaither