The recently reported carbon dioxide incident at Greene King Brewery was just the latest in a series of seemingly endless carbon dioxide leaks. Whilst breweries are a major producer and user of CO2, this is not the only industry whose staff, neighbours and passers-by may be exposed to this potentially deadly gas. CO2 is widely used in food processing, beverage delivery, refrigeration, fire suppression and much more besides.
Carbon dioxide leaks at General Mills
In the week before Greene King’s staff had to be rescued (and many local residents evacuated), a similar event had unfolded in Missouri, USA. At the General Mills flour mill and packaging plant in Kansas City, more than one hundred employees had to be evacuated after a dangerously high CO2 level—four percent—triggered the alarms. Fortunately, local firefighters stopped the leak and there were no casualties.
Carbon dioxide gas is used in grain mills and flour packaging plants for fumigation and controlled atmosphere storage. The General Mills plant had prepared well by having a CO2 alarm system; this provided an early warning which gave enough time for staff to be safely evacuated. In 1994 General Mills was not so lucky, however (according to the Kansas City Star), when a CO2 leak killed one employee and hospitalised eight others.
Gas leaks on campus in Kentucky
Back in September 2015, in Lexington, Kentucky, carbon dioxide leaking from a tanker truck was dealt with by police and fire officials. The truck was parked near the University of Kentucky campus when its equipment malfunctioned and the gas began to leak. The nearby McDonald’s was shut down for a short time while the situation was made safe. There was a visible vapour cloud but officials stated that this was only cold air.
Leaking tanker at a dry ice factory
On 25 of August 2015, a liquid CO2 tanker was discovered to be leaking at a dry ice facility in Santa Fe Springs, California, USA. Firefighters and paramedics attended the incident and secured the surrounding industrial area. A low, white cloud was observed on the ground when the responders arrived. The premises were briefly evacuated and one employee was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Cylinder found to be leaking carbon dioxide at UK cinema
During the last week of June 2015 at the Vue cinema in Westwood Cross, Kent, a large CO2 storage cylinder was found to be leaking at the rear of the building. Firefighters were called to the scene and—wearing breathing apparatus—worked alongside a specialist engineer to turn off the valves and stop the cylinder from leaking. Ventilation equipment was then used to clear the remaining gas from the area.
McDonald’s evacuated due to gas leak in basement
Only days earlier, on 22 June 2015, a McDonald’s restaurant in Ipswich was subjected to a temporary evacuation when a CO2 drinks machine began leaking. The CO2—which is heavier than air—had collected in the basement, therefore firefighters had to use breathing apparatus to safely isolate the gas leak and ventilate the building. Members of staff were treated at the scene but no-one was seriously affected.
30 tonnes of CO2 gas leaked at power station
On 17 of June 2015, at Heysham power station, carbon dioxide was released on a far bigger scale than in the incidents related above. CO2 is used at Heysham as a coolant for its two nuclear reactors—a technique used in all gas-cooled reactors in the UK. A corroded pipe in Heysham’s CO2 delivery system led to the accidental release of 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. Fortunately no-one was hurt.
Author: Paul Smith, Technical Writer
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