Dry ice is the general term for solid carbon dioxide (CO), coined in 1925 by Long Island-based Prest Air Devices. It is “frozen” by compressing carbon dioxide gas to a high pressure to create dry ice. When it is released, as liquid carbon dioxide, it quickly expands and evaporates, cooling some of the carbon dioxide down to the freezing point (-109.3 F or -78.5 C) so that it becomes solid “snow.” This solid can be compressed together into blocks, pellets, and other forms.
Dry ice can build pressure or displace normal air, potentially causing problems. Here’s a closer look at the dangers of dry ice and how to avoid them, whether you buy or make dry ice.
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.
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.
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 sealed 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.
- Do not taste, eat or swallow!
- Wear heavy, insulated gloves.
- Do not store in sealed container.
- Use only in ventilated space.
- Carbon dioxide is heavier than air.
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