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Hazards Associated with Dry Ice
By Joan Whetzel
Dry ice, that main stay of many a Halloween party and decorating scheme, has been used for other things as well, from quickly chilling foods to creating special effects for stage, TV and movie productions. While dry ice produces some really cool effects, it can be dangerous if handled improperly.
What Is Dry Ice?
Generally speaking, dry ice is a cryogen, which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying it's a gas in its liquid or frozen state. Dry ice is the frozen form of carbon dioxide that measures -109 degrees Fahrenheit (-28.5 degrees Celsius). It quickly returns to a gaseous state, without passing through the liquid state, when allowed to stand at room temperature or when exposed to liquids that are warmer in temperature. Carbon dioxide is not a combustible gas, and in fact, makes a great fire repellant, which makes it ideal for use as a fire extinguishing agent.
Burn and Frostbite Hazards of Dry Ice
Anyone using dry ice, for whatever reason, must take precautions to protect their hands with insulated gloves and wearing safety glasses to protect their eyes. Dry ice, because of the extremely cold temperature required to get it to its freezing point, will produce frostbite and cold burns on skin contact and may cause permanent eye damage.
The Dangers of Asphyxiation and Toxicity
As dry ice sublimates (returns to its gaseous state), the carbon dioxide is quickly released, expands from 700 to 750 percent in volume. Because carbon dioxide is heavier than the air we breathe, sinks and then collects in the low places in the building or house. This rapid expansion can lead to the rapid displacement of air, causing hyperventilation, headaches, dizziness, and even leading to death by asphyxiation.
Possibility of Explosion
Dry ice cannot be stored in glass or other airtight containers because there's simply no room for all that rapidly expanding gas. As the dry ice melts, these small tightly closed containers would explode from the buildup of pressure. The resultant explosion would send out glass fragments or shrapnel outward in all directions. The best storage containers are made of styrofoam with loose fitting lids.
Preventing the Dry Ice Damage and Healing Injuries
There are ways to prevent damage and injuries from dry ice, including:
· Working in well ventilated areas to prevent oxygen deficiency and over exposure to carbon dioxide.
· Wearing long sleeve shirts, long pants and gloves to prevent cold burns and frost bite.
· Not rubbing the area of skin burned by dry ice, which will make the burn worse.
· Not putting fingers, burned by the dry ice, into the mouth which will burn the mouth as well.
· Wearing safety glasses to prevent eye injuries.
· Treating skin burns immediately by placing the affected areas under cool or warm running water for a minimum of 15 minutes.
· Not using very hot or very cold water to rinse burned areas, as this will make burns worse.
As with all chemicals and gasses, obeying safety precautions goes a long way toward preventing injuries. And that will keep the cool special effects, well, cool!
Grand Valley State University. Cryogen and Dry Ice.
NOAA. What is Dry Ice?
Health and Safety Executive. General Hazards of Carbon Dioxide.
New York State Department of Health. What is Dry Ice?
Praxair. Carbon Dioxide, Dry Ice Safety.
University of Iowa, Department of Biochemistry. Dry Ice Material Safety Data Sheet.
University of Missouri, Columbia. Dry Ice Shipping Requirements.