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Dry Ice Dangers, Uses, and Safety Best Practices

co2 safety hazards

Dry ice is dangerous if not handled correctly, In this article, we explore the many uses of dry ice, its dangers, and safety best practices when handling or shipping.

What is Dry Ice?

Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is called "dry ice" because it does not melt into a liquid when it warms up; instead, it sublimates directly from a solid to a gas. This process happens at a temperature of about -78.5°C (-109.3°F).

Because dry ice is so cold, dry ice is commonly used to quickly cool or for temporary refrigeration.

Although dry ice is non-toxic it should be handled carefully due to its extremely low temperature. There are a number hazards one should be aware of.

What is Dry Ice used for?

Dry ice is widely used for cooling purposes in industries such as shipping perishable goods, preserving biological samples, creating special effects in entertainment (like fog or smoke effects), and in cleaning processes (known as dry ice blasting).

Some common uses of dry ice include but are not limited to:

Food Preservation and Shipping: Dry ice is commonly used to keep perishable items, such as frozen foods, meats, seafood, and ice cream, cold during shipping. It helps maintain low temperatures without the risk of water damage, as dry ice sublimates directly into carbon dioxide gas. The extreme cold temperature of dry ice (-78.5°C or -109.3°F) helps maintain the low temperature required to keep the food frozen or chilled during transit. Dry ice further sublimates into carbon dioxide gas, creating a cold and dry environment within the container without the risk of water leakage or moisture buildup.

In addition, certain specialty food items, such as gourmet ice creams, chocolates, and other frozen favorite goods, may require specific temperature conditions during shipping to preserve their quality and create optimal freshness. Dry ice is often used to ensure that these items remain frozen or chilled throughout the shipping process, maintaining their taste, texture, and appearance.

Special Effects in Entertainment: Dry ice is also widely used in special effects to create various atmospheric effects, particularly in the entertainment industry for theatrical productions, concerts, haunted houses, and film or television shoots. One of the most common uses of dry ice in special effects is to create dense fog. This occurs when dry ice is placed in hot water, causing it to sublimate rapidly and release a dense fog of carbon dioxide gas. This fog effect can be controlled and manipulated to achieve different levels of density and dispersion, adding atmosphere and drama to performances or scenes.

Further, dry ice fog can be used to mimic natural elements such as clouds, mist, steam, or atmospheric effects like fog rolling in over a landscape. This allows filmmakers, stage directors, or even event planners to recreate realistic outdoor environments or evoke specific weather conditions for storytelling purposes. Click here to see our own dry ice Halloween experiment.

Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications: Dry ice can be found commonly used for the transportation and storage of temperature-sensitive medical and pharmaceutical products. These products could include vaccines, blood samples, organs for transplantation, and even laboratory reagents. Its ability to maintain low temperatures makes it an ideal cooling agent for these specific medical applications.

Dry ice is sometimes also used in cryotherapy, a common medical treatment that involves applying extreme cold to treat various medical conditions, such as warts, lesions, and certain types of cancer. Dry ice may be used to create cold packs or be applied directly to the skin to induce localized tissue freezing, which can be beneficial for various therapeutic purposes as well.

Dry Ice Blasting: Dry ice blasting is an application that has become more and more popular in the last five years. This application involves a cleaning process that uses compressed air to propel pellets of dry ice at high speeds to remove contaminants, coatings, and residues from surfaces. It is commonly used in industrial settings for cleaning equipment, machinery, molds, and production lines without the use of water or chemicals.

Dry ice blasting also offers several core advantages to individuals, including reduced downtime, improved cleaning efficiency, reduced waste generation, and minimal overall environmental impact. It is also non-toxic and non-flammable, making it safe for use in confined spaces and around sensitive equipment.

Carbonation and Beverage Dispensing: Dry ice can be used to carbonate beverages or create carbonated cocktails by adding it to liquid in a sealed container. As the dry ice sublimates, it releases carbon dioxide gas, carbonating the liquid. The amount of dry ice added to the liquid and the duration of contact time determine the level of carbonation in the beverage. By adjusting these factors, beverage producers and manufacturers can control the needed carbonation levels to achieve the desired level of fizziness in the final product.

Laboratory and Scientific Research: Dry ice is used in laboratories for various purposes, including the preservation of biological samples, such as DNA, tissues, and cell cultures, at low temperatures. It is also used in experiments requiring extremely cold temperatures, such as cryogenic studies and thermal cycling.

One common application in laboratory research, is using dry ice during IVF treatments. This is when dry ice is employed in the process of cryopreserving the cells and tissues for long-term storage. Samples are typically frozen using a controlled rate cooling process and stored in cryogenic containers with dry ice or liquid nitrogen to maintain temperatures below the glass transition temperature, preserving their viability for future use.

Insect Control and Pest Management: Dry ice can be used as a non-toxic method for controlling insect pests, such as mosquitoes and bed bugs. By releasing carbon dioxide as it sublimates, dry ice attracts insects, which can then be captured or eliminated using traps.

These are just a few examples of the many applications of dry ice across different industries. Overall, its versatility and unique properties make it a valuable tool across a variety of industries, ranging from food preservation to scientific research and beyond.

What are the Dangers of Dry Ice?

From a "danger" perspective when dealing with dry ice there are two main hazards to look out for, cold burns and asphyxiation.

As the temperature of dry ice is -78°C, incorrect dry ice handling comes with a risk of cold burns and frostbite. When handling dry ice, individuals should always wear appropriate gloves when handling dry ice and never touch dry ice with bare skin.

The second dry ice hazard is asphyxiation. As CO2 sublimes at room temperature, in small or poorly ventilated areas there is a risk of CO2 gas build up. Further exposure to high concentrations of CO2 can lead to death, so it is vital that dry ice safety precautions are in place to avoid this.

Some additional dangers associated with dry ice include:

  • Explosion Hazard: When dry ice is stored in a sealed container, the sublimation of carbon dioxide can cause pressure to build up, potentially leading to container rupture or explosion. It's essential to use containers specifically designed for storing dry ice and to allow for venting to prevent pressure buildup.
  • Chemical Burns: Dry ice can cause chemical burns or damage certain materials if not handled properly. Direct contact with dry ice can cause damage to plastics, rubber, or other materials due to the extreme cold temperature.
  • Transportation Hazards: During transportation, dry ice can pose hazards if not packaged and handled correctly. Improperly insulated containers or inadequate ventilation can lead to the buildup of carbon dioxide gas, increasing the risk of asphyxiation or container rupture.
  • Handling Precautions: Dry ice should be handled with care to prevent injuries or accidents. Proper training and safety protocols should be followed when storing, transporting, or using dry ice to minimize risks to personnel and property.

Overall, while dry ice can be a valuable tool in various applications, it's essential to be aware of the potential dangers associated with its use and to take appropriate precautions to ensure safe handling and usage.

By following proper safety guidelines and protocols, the risks associated with dry ice can be minimized, allowing for its safe and effective utilization in various industries and applications.

When safety guidelines are not followed, however, unfortunate events such as dry ice fatalities, can occur. These incidents show the tragic results from improper handling or use of CO2 gas that could have been properly prevented just with proper education, gas detection monitoring and a keen awareness. 

In this next section, we focus on the core importance of dry ice safety and what to do to prevent asphyxiation or burns when handling or using dry ice. 

Dry Ice Handling Guidelines and Safety Practices

Ensuring dry ice safety involves implementing proper handling procedures, adhering to safety guidelines, and being aware of potential hazards. Here are some best practices and tips for ensuring dry ice safety:

  1. Use Protective Gear: Always wear insulated gloves and safety goggles when handling dry ice to protect against frostbite and eye injuries. Avoid direct skin contact with dry ice, as it can cause burns.
  2. Handle in Well-Ventilated Areas: Work in well-ventilated areas to prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide gas released by sublimating dry ice. Ensure that there is adequate airflow to maintain oxygen levels and prevent the risk of asphyxiation.
  3. Store in Ventilated Containers: When storing dry ice, use containers that allow for the venting of carbon dioxide gas. Avoid sealing dry ice in airtight containers, as pressure buildup can lead to container rupture or explosion.
  4. Use Proper Packaging for Transportation: When transporting dry ice, use insulated containers designed for this purpose. Ensure that the container allows for venting to prevent pressure buildup during transit.
  5. Do Not Store in Unventilated Spaces: Never store dry ice in unventilated or enclosed spaces, such as airtight refrigerators or freezers, as this can lead to the buildup of carbon dioxide gas and pose a risk of asphyxiation.
  6. Handle with Care: Avoid dropping or crushing dry ice, as this can cause it to release gas rapidly and increase the risk of pressure buildup or container rupture.
  7. Do Not Ingest Dry Ice: Dry ice should never be ingested or consumed, as it can cause internal injuries due to its extreme cold temperature.
  8. Label Containers: Clearly label containers containing dry ice to indicate its presence and warn others of potential hazards. Include information about proper handling procedures and safety precautions.
  9. Educate Personnel: Provide training and education to personnel handling dry ice on proper handling procedures, safety precautions, and emergency response protocols.
  10. Dispose of Safely: Dispose of dry ice properly by allowing it to sublimate in a well-ventilated area. Do not dispose of dry ice in sinks, toilets, or drains, as this can cause damage or blockages.

By following these best practices and tips for ensuring dry ice safety, you can minimize the risks associated with handling and using dry ice and create a safer working environment for personnel by minimizing the potential for accidents or injuries.

Dry Ice Carbon Dioxide Poisoning

Dry ice is frozen CO2. Exposure to high levels of CO2 can lead to various symptoms, ranging from mild discomfort to serious severe health effects. For starters, should an individual experience overexposure the first symptom could be difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. this occurs because elevated CO2 levels can displace oxygen in the air, leading to decreased oxygen levels in the bloodstream.

Additionally, feeling dizziness or lightheaded can also occur when exposed to elevated levels and this can be due to reduced oxygen levels in the blood, which can result in decreased blood flow to the brain. Headaches are another common symptom that can also result due to blood vessels in the brain becoming dilated.

As exposure or elevated levels increase, individuals can further experience vomiting, disorientation, and increased heart rate. In severe cases of carbon dioxide exposure loss of consciousness can also occur. This of course, would require a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

It's important to note that the severity of symptoms depends on the concentration and duration of carbon dioxide exposure. If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of carbon dioxide exposure, it's essential to move to a well-ventilated area with fresh air and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

Additionally, proper ventilation and monitoring of carbon dioxide levels are essential in environments where CO2 buildup may occur to prevent adverse health effects. Unlike CO2 gas, liquid or frozen CO2 (called dry ice) is dangerous when handled. Proper insulated gloves and a face mask is recommended whenever handling dry ice.

Learn more about dry ice safety here.

Dry Ice Exposure Limits

Exposure limits for dry ice primarily revolve around the potential hazards associated with the release of the CO2 gas as it sublimates (melts).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other regulatory bodies provide specific guidelines for safe exposure limits to carbon dioxide in the workplace. These limits are typically expressed in terms of time-weighted average (TWA) exposure and short-term exposure limits (STEL). However, it's important to note that regulations may vary by region, so it's essential to consult local guidelines for specific requirements.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL): OSHA's permissible exposure limit for carbon dioxide is 5,000 parts per million (ppm) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). This means that over an 8-hour work shift, workers should not be exposed to average concentrations exceeding this limit.
  • OSHA Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL): OSHA also provides a short-term exposure limit (STEL) for carbon dioxide, which is 30,000 ppm over a 15-minute period. This limit is intended to prevent acute effects from short-term exposure.
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): NIOSH recommends a recommended exposure limit (REL) of 5,000 ppm for carbon dioxide as a TWA for up to a 10-hour workday during a 40-hour workweek.
  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH): ACGIH provides similar exposure limits to OSHA and NIOSH, with a threshold limit value (TLV) of 5,000 ppm for carbon dioxide as a TWA for an 8-hour workday.

Overall, it is crucial to monitor carbon dioxide levels in areas where dry ice is used or stored to ensure they remain within safe limits. Proper ventilation, gas detection monitoring equipment, and adherence to safety protocols are essential for preventing overexposure to carbon dioxide. Additionally, when handling dry ice, it's important to consider the potential hazards of extremely low temperatures, which can cause frostbite upon direct contact with skin. Proper personal protective equipment, such as insulated gloves, should be worn at all times to prevent injuries.

Further, it is always best practice to consult relevant safety regulations and guidelines, as well as any specific workplace policies, to ensure compliance with exposure limits and best practices for handling dry ice safely.

      CO2 Safety Alarm for Dry Ice Applications

      Remote CO2 Storage Safety 3 Alarm - CO2Meter

      The primary purpose of a CO2 safety alarm is to ensure the safety and well-being of occupants in enclosed spaces where elevated levels of CO2 could occur. By using a CO2 safety alarm when working with dry ice, this is an excellent precautionary measure to ensure safety in environments where carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup may occur.

      These alarms are specifically designed for detecting elevated levels of carbon dioxide in indoor atmospheric environments. These technologies commonly provide both audible/visual alarms to indicate should CO2 levels exceed preset thresholds. Devices like the Remote CO2 Storage Safety 3 Alarm include 3 relays that can automatically control fans to ventilate the space should a potential CO2 leak occur and meets OSHA/NIOSH TWA standards. 

      Here's how you can implement a CO2 safety alarm system for dry ice handling:

      • Selecting the Alarm: Choose a CO2 safety alarm specifically designed for detecting elevated levels of carbon dioxide in indoor environments. These alarms typically feature sensors capable of detecting CO2 concentrations and emitting audible and visual alerts when levels exceed preset thresholds.
      • Placement of Alarms: Install CO2 safety alarms in areas where dry ice is handled or stored, such as walk-in freezers, refrigerated storage units, or confined spaces. Place alarms at strategic locations to ensure thorough coverage and early detection of CO2 buildup.
      • Calibration and Maintenance: Ensure that CO2 safety alarms are calibrated and maintained according to manufacturer recommendations. Regularly check the functionality of the alarms, replace batteries as needed, and perform routine inspections to ensure proper operation.
      • Setting Thresholds: Adjust the alarm thresholds based on the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for carbon dioxide recommended by regulatory agencies such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or local health and safety guidelines. Set the alarms to trigger when CO2 concentrations exceed safe levels to provide timely warnings to personnel.
      • Audible and Visual Alarms: CO2 safety alarms should emit audible alarms, such as sirens or beeps, and visual indicators, such as flashing lights or LED displays, when elevated CO2 levels are detected. This ensures that personnel are promptly alerted to the presence of potentially hazardous conditions.
      • Emergency Response Plan: Develop and implement an emergency response plan that outlines procedures to follow in the event of a CO2 alarm activation. Ensure that all personnel are trained on the appropriate actions to take, including evacuating the area, seeking fresh air, and contacting emergency services if necessary.
      • Integration with Monitoring Systems: Consider integrating CO2 safety alarms with centralized monitoring systems or building automation systems for real-time monitoring and remote notification of alarm events. This allows for proactive management of CO2 levels and timely response to potential safety hazards.

      By implementing a CO2 safety alarm system for dry ice handling, you can enhance safety in the workplace and mitigate the risks associated with carbon dioxide exposure. It's essential to prioritize safety and take proactive measures to protect personnel from potential hazards associated with dry ice usage.

      For more information on selecting the proper dry ice carbon dioxide (CO2) safety alarms, click here.

      For more information on CO2 safety monitoring and dry ice dangers, speak to a CO2Meter specialist at Sales@CO2Meter.com or (877) 678-4259.


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