Student Sustains Cold Burns When Touching Liquid Nitrogen



What Happened?

A researcher inserted metal racks into a liquid nitrogen tank when her right hand came into contact with the chemical; she sustained cold burns to her index, middle and ring fingers. The researcher reported the incident immediately to her PI, and went to the emergency room for medical attention. At the time of the incident the researcher was wearing appropriate PPE including a pair of latex gloves underneath the cryogenic gloves; however, the chemical had penetrated the gloves upon submersion.

What Was The Cause?

The cryogenic gloves worn by the researcher appeared to be intact. Cryogenic gloves are meant to handle cold items and protect to temperatures as low as -162°C (-260°F). However, they are not meant to be submerged into liquid nitrogen which has a temperature of −196 °C ( −321 °F). In addition, if the gloves were used for other purposes where they get wet, the problem can be compounded. Not all cryogenic gloves are water-resistant.

What Corrective Actions Were Taken?

• Review the correct use of cryogenic gloves and modify SOP for handling cryogenic chemicals
• Review modified SOP with lab members

How Can Incidents Like This Be Prevented?

• Make sure to use all equipment according to their specifications


> Cryogenic Liquids


Contact with cryogenic materials can rapidly freeze and destroy skin tissues. If exposed:

1. Contact a physician immediately

2. Remove all clothing that may restrict circulation to the frozen area

3. Flush affected area with tepid, not hot, water. The water temperature should be barely above body temperature; do not use dry heat

4. Do not rub frozen body parts, before or after warming

5. Keep person warm and rested

6. Cover thawed body part with dry sterile gauze and large, bulky protective clothing

7. Report the incident to your supervisor


Liquid Nitrogen

• A jet of cryogen vapors can freeze the skin or eyes faster than liquid contact

• Liquid-to-gas expansion ratio of nitrogen is ~700:1 at 20 °C (68 °F), which can generate great force

• 2006 incident at Texas A&M University: defective pressure-relief devices resulted in explosion of liquid nitrogen tank and propelled the tank through the ceiling

• Might act as an asphyxiant in confined spaces