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Hazards associated with handling liquid nitrogen: what you must know to keep yourself safe

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 — Poster Session III

10:00 a.m. – Noon

Natcher Conference Center




  • A Schwartz
  • T Mitchell
  • D Masselle
  • A Yazdani
  • J Peterson


Liquid nitrogen (LN) is a clear, odorless, cryogenic liquid that has many applications from “molecular gastronomy” to cryopreservation of whole cells and tissues. At standard atmospheric pressure, LN boils at -196 °C (-321 °F) and has a gas expansion ratio of 1:694; these highly volatile characteristics pose safety concerns when LN is used in the laboratory. If stored in an improper container, pressure buildup can result in the container exploding, propelling broken fragments at high speeds. Contact exposures to LN can cause severe frostbite injuries resembling burns and the cold gas rising from LN can damage delicate tissues in the eyes and lungs. The hazards associated with LN require the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever handling, transferring or transporting LN. LN gas readily displaces oxygen and can cause dizziness, vomiting, unconsciousness and death by asphyxiation. In areas where LN is used repeatedly or large volumes are stored, oxygen monitoring devices should be installed to alert occupants when oxygen levels drop below the acceptable level (19.5%).

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