Past experience has shown that cryogenic fluids can be used safely in industrial environments as well as in typical laboratories provided all facilities are properly designed and maintained, and personnel handling these fluids are adequately trained and supervised. There are many hazards associated with cryogenic fluids. However, the principal ones are those associated with the response of the human body and the surroundings to the fluids and their vapors, and those associated with reactions between the fluids and their surroundings.

Physiological Hazards Severe cold "burns" may be inflicted if the human body comes in contact with cryogenic fluids or with surfaces cooled by cryogenic fluids. Damage to the skin or tissue is similar to an ordinary burn. Because the body is composed mainly of water, the low temperature effectively freezes the tissue—damaging or destroying it. The severity of the burn depends upon the contact area and the contact time with prolonged contact resulting in deeper burns. Cold burns are accompanied by stinging sensations and pain similar to those of ordinary burns. The ordinary reaction is to withdraw that portion of the body that is in contact with the cold surface. Severe burns are seldom sustained if withdrawal is possible. Cold gases may not be damaging if the turbulence in the gas is low, particularly since the body can normally adjust for a heat loss of 95 J/m2s for an area of limited exposure. If the heat loss becomes much greater than this, the skin temperature drops and freezing of the affected area may ensue. Freezing of facial tissue will occur in about 100 s if the heat loss is 2,300 J/m2s.

Materials and Construction Hazards Construction materials for noncryogenic service usually are chosen on the basis of tensile strength, fatigue life, weight, cost, ease of fabrication, corrosion resistance, and so on. When working with low temperatures the designer must consider the ductility of the material since low temperatures, as noted earlier, have the effect of making some construction materials brittle or less ductile. Some materials become brittle at low temperatures but still can absorb considerable impact, while others become brittle and lose their impact strength.

Flammability and Explosion Hazards In order to have a fire or an explosion requires the combination of an oxidant, a fuel, and an ignition source. Generally the oxidizer will be oxygen. The latter may be available from a variety of sources including leakage or spillage, condensation of air on cryogenically cooled surfaces below 90 K, and buildup, as a solid impurity in liquid hydrogen. The fuel may be almost any noncompatible material or flammable gas; compatible materials can also act as fuels in the presence of extreme heat (strong ignition sources). The ignition source may be a mechanical or electrostatic spark, flame, impact, heat by kinetic effects, friction, chemical reaction, and so on. Certain combinations of oxygen, fuel, and ignition sources will always result in fire or explosion. The order of magnitude of flammability and detonability limits for fuel-oxidant gaseous mixtures of two widely used cryogens is shown in Table 11-27.

TABLE 11-27 Flammability and Detonability Limits of

Hydrogen and Methane Gas

TABLE 11-27 Flammability and Detonability Limits of

Hydrogen and Methane Gas


Flammability Limits (mol %)

Detonability Limits (mol %)


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