Oxygen Depletion Risks from Nitrogen in Pharmaceutical Processing

Within the air, a normal concentration of oxygen is 21%, while nitrogen makes up 78% of the rest of the atmosphere along with some trace gases. Inert gases such as nitrogen, argon and helium although aren’t toxic, they do not help to support human breathing. These are odourless, colourless and tasteless making them undetectable. An increase in the volume of any other gases that are not oxygen can lead to a circumstance in which individuals may be at risk of asphyxiation which can cause serious injury or even death. This removal of oxygen gas in the air we breathe makes having an oxygen depletion sensor not just useful, but essential to maintaining life.

How is Nitrogen used to control oxygen levels?

Nitrogen (N2) can be used to control levels of oxygen in a laboratory. When carrying out tasks within the pharmaceutical industry, when transferring products or packaging process, nitrogen is used. Nitrogen is used to take oxygen away from the packaging prior to it being sealed, to make certain the product is preserved. As a result of this the need for an oxygen deficiency monitor is very important. Fixed or portable devices have the ability to detect oxygen levels within a laboratory, plant or utility room. Fixed gas detection systems are suitable for monitoring an area or room, whereas a portable gas detector is designed to be worn on the person within your breathing area.

What are the Risks of Oxygen depletion?

There are three main reasons why monitors are needed; it is essential to detect oxygen deficiencies or enrichment as too little oxygen can prevent the human body from functioning leading to the worker losing consciousness. Unless the oxygen level can be restored to a normal level the worker is at risk of potential death. An atmosphere is deficient when the concentration of O2 is less than 19.5%. Consequently, an environment that has too much oxygen in it is equally dangerous as this constitutes a greatly increased risk of fire and explosion, this is considered when the concentration level of O2 is over 23.5%.

In the absence of adequate ventilation, the level of oxygen can be reduced surprisingly quickly by breathing and combustion processes. Oxygen levels may also be depleted due to dilution by other gases such as carbon dioxide (also a toxic gas), nitrogen or helium, and chemical absorption by corrosion processes and similar reactions. Oxygen sensors should be used in environments where any of these potential risks exist. When locating oxygen sensors, consideration needs to be given to the density of the diluting gas and the “breathing” zone (nose level). For example, helium is lighter than air and will displace the oxygen from the ceiling downwards whereas carbon dioxide, being heavier than air, will predominately displace the oxygen below the breathing zone. Ventilation patterns must also be considered when locating sensors.

Oxygen monitors usually provide a first-level alarm when the oxygen concentration has dropped to 19% volume. Most people will begin to behave abnormally when the level reaches 17%, and hence a second alarm is usually set at this threshold. Exposure to atmospheres containing between 10% and 13% oxygen can bring about unconsciousness very rapidly; death comes very quickly if the oxygen level drops below 6% volume. Oxygen sensors are often installed in laboratories where inert gases (e.g., nitrogen) are stored in enclosed areas.

How do Fixed or Portable Devices Detect Oxygen?

Crowcon offer a range of portable monitors; Gas-Pro portable multi gas detector offers detection of up to 5 gases in a compact and rugged solution. It has an easy-to-read top mount display making it easy to use and optimal for confined space gas detection. An optional internal pump, activated with the flow plate, takes the pain out of pre-entry testing and allows Gas-Pro to be worn either in pumped or diffusion modes.

T4 portable 4-in-1 gas detector provides effective protection against oxygen depletion. T4 multi gas detector now comes with improved detection of pentane, hexane and other long chain hydrocarbons. Offering you compliance, robustness and low cost of ownership in a simple to use solution. T4 contains a wide range of powerful features to make everyday use easier and safer.

Crowcon’s fixed detector XgardIQ is an intelligent and versatile fixed detector and transmitter compatible with Crowcon’s full range of sensor technologies. Available fitted with a variety of sensors for fixed flammable, toxic, oxygen or H2S gas detection. Providing analogue 4-20mA and RS-485 Modbus signals as standard, XgardIQ is optionally available with Alarm and Fault relays and HART communications. The 316 stainless steels are available with three M20 or 1/2“NPT cable entries. This device is also (SIL-2) Safety integrity level 2 certified fixed detector.

What’s so Important about my Monitors Measuring Range?

What is a Monitor Measuring Range?

Gas monitoring is usually measured in PPM range (parts per million), percentage volume or percentage of LEL (lower explosive limit) this enables Safety Managers, to ensure that their operators are not being exposed to any potentially harmful levels of gases or chemicals. Gas monitoring can be done remotely to ensure that the area is clean before a worker enters the area as well as monitoring gas through a permanently fixed device or body worn portable device to detect any potentially leaks or hazardous areas during the course of the working shift.  

Why are Gas Monitors essential and what are the Ranges of deficiencies or enrichments?

There are three main reasons why monitors are needed; it is essential to detect oxygen deficiencies or enrichment as too little oxygen can prevent the human body from functioning leading to the worker losing consciousness. Unless the oxygen level can be restored to a normal level the worker is at risk of potential death. An atmosphere is considered to be deficient when the concentration of O2 is less than 19.5%. Consequently, an environment that has too much oxygen in it is equally dangerous as this constitutes a greatly increased risk of fire and explosion, this is considered when the concentration level of O2 is over 23.5%. 

Monitors are required when Toxic Gases are present of which can cause considerable harm to the human body. Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) is a classic example of this. H2S is given off by bacteria when it breaks down organic matter, due to this gas being heavier than air, it can displace air leading to potential harm to persons present and is also a broad-spectrum toxic poison.  

Additionally, gas monitors have the ability to detect flammable gases. Dangers that can be prevented through using a gas monitor are not only though inhaling but they are a potential hazard due to combustion. gas monitors with an LEL range sensor detects and alert against flammable gases.  

Why are they important and how do they work?

Measurement or Measuring Range is the total range that the device can measure in normal conditions. The term normal meaning no overpressure limits (OPL) and within maximum working pressure (MWP).  These values are usually found on the product website or specification datasheet. The measuring range can also be calculated by identifying the difference between the Upper Range Limit (URL) and the Lower Range Limit (LRL) of the device. When trying to determine the range of the detector it is not identifying the area of square footage or within a fixed radius of the detector but instead is identifying the yielding or diffusion of the area being monitored. The process happens as the sensors respond to the gases that penetrate through the monitor’s membranes. Therefore, the devices have the ability to detect gas that is in immediate contact with the monitor. This  highlights the significance of understanding the measuring range of gas detectors and highlight their importance for the safety of the workers present in these environments.   

Are there any products that are available?

Crowcon offer a range of portable monitors; The Gas-Pro portable multi gas detector offers detection of up to 5 gases in a compact and rugged solution. It has an easy-to-read top mount display making it easy to use and optimal for confined space gas detection. An optional internal pump, activated with the flow plate, takes the pain out of pre-entry testing and allows Gas-Pro to be worn either in pumped or diffusion modes. 

The T4 portable 4-in-1 gas detector provides effective protection against 4 common gas hazards: carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, flammable gases and oxygen depletion. The T4 multi gas detector now comes with improved detection of pentane, hexane and other long chain hydrocarbons. Offering you compliance, robustness and low cost of ownership in a simple to use solution. T4 contains a wide range of powerful features to make everyday use easier and safer. 

The Gasman portable single gas detector is compact and lightweight yet is fully ruggedised for the toughest of industrial environments. Featuring simple single button operation, it has a large easy-to-read display of gas concentration, and audible, visual and vibrating alarms.  

Crowcon also offer a flexible range of fixed gas detection products that can detect flammable, toxic and oxygen gases, report their presence and activate alarms or associated equipment. We use a variety of measurement, protection and communications technologies and our fixed detectors have been proven in many arduous environments, including oil and gas exploration, water treatment, chemical plants and steel mills. These fixed gas detectors are used in many applications where reliability, dependability and lack of false alarms are instrumental to efficient and effective gas detection. These include within the automotive and aerospace manufacturing sectors, on scientific and research facilities and in high-utilisation medical, civil or commercial plants. 

Sapphire hunters saved!

The Mine Hunters are on the search for sapphires. In this episode they head to South Western Madagascar, to one of the few places in the world where a single mine can produce sapphires of every color of the rainbow.

After a wall collapse, oxygen depletion is the biggest danger they face in these dangerous environments – tunnels which have been sealed off for some time, are long, narrow, and go deep under ground.

Unfortunately miner Fred runs out of Oxygen whilst inspecting the first muddy pit mine. His Tetra 3 gas detector goes in to alarm, allowing his friends to pull him out quickly and safely. Although the team here is on a budget, the one piece of kit they can not go without is clear – a life saving gas detector!

View the video here

Read more about the Mine Hunters series and watch other episodes.

Find out more about the Tetra 3 Gas Detector and other interesting applications such as Volcano research