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Why Is Dry Ice Dangerous?

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These pellets of dry ice are sublimating in air.

The dangers associated with dry ice are due to its extremely cold temperature and sublimation into carbon dioxide gas.

Richard Wheeler
Question: Why Is Dry Ice Dangerous?
Dry ice is useful and fun for science, cleaning and refrigeration, yet it can be dangerous if stored or used improperly. Here's a look at some of the hazards associated with dry ice and how to avoid them.
Answer: First off, dry ice, which is the solid form of carbon dioxide, is not dangerous if it is stored and used correctly. When people ask why dry ice is dangerous what they are really looking for is an answer to whether or not dry ice can be used safely and, if so, how it can be handled safely.

Dry ice presents hazards because it is extremely cold and because it quickly sublimates into carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is not toxic, but it can build up pressure or displace normal air, potentially causing problems. Here's a closer look at the dangers of dry ice and how to avoid them:

Dry Ice Frostbite

Dry ice is extremely cold! Skin contact kills the cells, giving you a dry ice burn. It only takes a couple of seconds to get burned, so it's best to use tongs or gloves when handling dry ice. Don't eat dry ice. If you use it to cool a drink, be careful that you don't accidentally get a piece of dry ice in your mouth or accidentally swallow some.

Asphyxiation

Dry ice forms carbon dioxide gas. Although the carbon dioxide isn't toxic, it changes the chemistry of the air so that there is a lower percentage of oxygen. This is not an issue in a well-ventilated area, but it can cause problems in enclosed spaces. Also, the cool carbon dioxide gas sinks to the floor of a room. The increased concentration of carbon dioxide is more likely to cause problems for pets or children than for adults, both because they have a higher metabolism and because they may be closer to the floor where the concentration of carbon dioxide is highest.

Explosion Hazard

Dry ice is not flammable or explosive, but it exerts pressure as it changes from solid dry ice to gaseous carbon dioxide. If dry ice is placed in a seal container, there is a risk of the container rupturing or of the cap rifling off of the container when you open it. A dry ice bomb produces extremely loud noise and shoots out pieces of the container and dry ice. You could harm your hearing and become injured by the container. Pieces of dry ice could become embedded in your skin, giving you internal frostbite. To avoid these dangers, don't seal dry ice in a bottle, jar or locking cooler. It's fine in a paper bag in your refrigerator or freezer or in a cooler without a tight seal.

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