It's Friday afternoon. You walk into your favorite fast food place, order a sandwich, fries and drink and go to the restroom. In the restroom you pass out, fall on the floor and die. The next person entering sees you on the floor and tries to help. He passes out and dies. A third person calls 911. The first EMT medic to enter the restroom gets sick but recovers.
The cause of this dramatized but real incident? Investigators are stumped but blame cleaning fluids.
In fact your drink caused it!
It happened in Georgia and investigators couldn't discover the cause, at first. Then reports of the incident reached officials in Phoenix, Arizona. They contacted Georgia officials and suggested inspecting the CO2 system that adds carbonization to the soft drinks. Sure enough a gas leak caused CO2 to fill the rest room, where ventilation was poor. The gas is heavier than air, so it displaces air from the floor up. Basically the two victims died of asphyxiation.
The number of large CO2 containers in use throughout the country is in the millions. A major use is for carbonating fountain drinks, so every business that has a drink fountain has one. CO2 isn't poisonous; it just displaces oxygen because it's heavier. So if CO2 is injected into a poorly ventilated room, it fills the room from bottom to top. Anyone in the room will quickly pass out and, falling on the floor, have no oxygen at all.
The number of such incidents in the world is small, maybe one every two years. But the use of large CO2 containers at businesses is increasing as these containers are no longer taken to be refilled, but are refilled on site by delivery trucks. This means that the regulation of the containers changes from transportation officials to pressure vessel authorities. And pressure vessel authorities are taking notice and action.
If you are involved in a business that uses CO2, be prepared for changes in the engineering design, installation, operation, and maintenance of these systems. Boiler and pressure vessel regulatory boards throughout the country are taking action to prevent fatalities like the ones described above. In fact, the Alabama board is meeting this Friday to tackle the subject.
Cooler weather means your vehicle tire pressures have fallen. Check them regularly when cold. Use the tire pressure information that should be on the driver's door jamb or in your owner's manual.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.