More Manufacturing, Or A Dirtier Planet?

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a cleanroom, let me edumacate you: A cleanroom is, essentially, a carefully climate-controlled, enclosed area (shaped like a room). Fancy HEPA air filtration and air showers and other similar features keep particulates and contaminants out—most cleanrooms screen out anything bigger than 0.3 microns (one micron is equal to roughly 3.9 x 10-5 inches); some go even smaller.

The reason cleanrooms exist is because many manufacturing, production, and packaging processes require absolute cleanliness, lest the product being manufactured, produced, or packaged be contaminated. This applies mostly to medical devices (especially implantable ones) and high-tech equipment like semiconductors, but cleanrooms are used in all sorts of industries: automotive, military, etc.

Cool Story, Bro. Aaaand…?

The reason I mention it is that a recent study showed that the cleanroom manufacturing industry (that is, the industry of manufacturing cleanrooms, not the industry of manufacturing in cleanrooms) is likely to grow considerably over the next five years (by over five percent per year), reaching an overall value of over $4 billion by 2020.

Now, does this mean that there’s simply a growing need for cleanrooms? Obviously. BUT! Is this because there are more products being manufactured that require extra cleanliness? Or is it because the world in general is getting dirtier, causing once-acceptable levels of particulates to increase to dangerous levels?

My money’s on the latter.

Now, I’ll grant you that the growing prevalence of smart telephones and other mobile devices, all of which require semiconductors in some shape or form, has bumped up manufacturing of those little gizmos. But it seems like the market saturation point has been reached, or nearly, so manufacturing is probably leveling off, as well.

However, what isn’t normalizing is the climate change that’s threatening our planet. If you’ve ever spent a spring in a snowy climate, you know that, when snow melts, there’s some pretty gnarly stuff left behind. Snow mold, for just one example—the amount of crud that appears during spring thaw is truly mindboggling. And gross.

Better hold your breath, gang. Who knows what's getting kicked up.

Better hold your breath, gang. Who knows what’s getting kicked up?

We’ve all heard that our polar ice caps and are slowly melting, as are glaciers and the snowpack on major mountains, from Kilimanjaro to the Cascades. That schwa has been frozen for hundreds or thousands of years, so there’s probably some especially nasty stuff coming out in the thaw. Once that…whatever it is gets kicked up into the air, it can make its way to pretty much anywhere—including manufacturing facilities where clean-critical items are being made.

So, now, these manufacturers are building cleanrooms into their plants, or installing modular cleanrooms in existing buildings, to keep these age-old mystery particles out. But what will happen to humanity? We’re obviously breathing in these microscopic pollutants on the reg. How long before the ill effects become significant? Could modern humans withstand an outbreak born of a virus that’s been frozen for a thousand years in the highest reaches of the Himalayas? Or will we need wearable cleanrooms to stay healthy?

I’m going to start by Saranwrapping myself and will scale up accordingly. Laugh all you want now, but don’t come crying to me when malignant microscopic particles make you cough up a lung.

Photo credit: kylewest / Foter / CC BY

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