Nothing beats the exhilarating feeling of watching your favorite band or musician emerge on stage behind a massive cloud of rolling smoke. Thousands of cheering fans pump the atmosphere, making the air almost seem electric until finally, your favorite artist emerges amid the thick clouds. Regardless, safety is important when using co2 special effects.
At the risk of revealing my age, I remember almost all of my favorite rock bands used this smoke effect in the 80s. Something about the smoke triggered everyone’s excitement about the next two or three hours of music. Without straying too far off-topic, there was one thing back then I never realized about that smoke.
The “smoke” wasn’t smoke at all – it’s CO2 causing a smoke effect. It might seem harmless compared to using real smoke. However, CO2 doesn’t come without its own risks, and guidelines technicians must follow.
This article highlights CO2 facts and info to help you maintain safe practices using gas, solid, or liquid CO2.
Cryo Stage Effects: The Common Uses and Advantages of CO2
CO2 is used as a propellant in items like air pistols or paintball guns and is also a staple in the film and TV industry and a standard prop for concert applications.
So much of the effects industry revolves around CO2 and cryo stage effects, mainly because they don’t create real smoke and instead use a CO2 jet machine or CO2 cannon to duplicate a smoky environment. Whether it's a fog machine, greenhouse effect, or streamer, CO2 is heavier than air (instead of lighter like steam); it will drop to the floor and pool in low areas.
The advantages of using CO2 for effects in multiple entertainment venues include:
- The effect is almost instant, eliminating the need for choreographed or timed special effects.
- The gas has no taste or odor, which mitigates the chances of a negative crowd reaction.
- The dissipation is fast, allowing a clear view of the center stage or filming area.
When handling special effects, safety should always be a priority, especially when the item in question is a gas released in a confined space. You must adhere to specific guidelines for safety reasons, avoiding the chances of injury.
Carbon Dioxide Effects On Human Body: What Are the Hazards of CO2?
Most people know breathing in CO2 is terrible. However, many people have little knowledge of the specific hazards of CO2.
In a solid-state like dry ice or dispensed under high pressure from a fire extinguisher as a gas or liquid, CO2 causes extreme burns to human skin. The high pressure under which CO2 is held also creates a combustion risk that leads to explosion under the right (or wrong) conditions.
If you inhale CO2 as a vapor during concerts or in enclosed spaces at high concentrations, you experience side effects that could act as red flags, alerting you to toxicity issues. However, it’s worth noting that you should immediately exit the area when you experience many of these symptoms.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Safety, CO2 causes the following physical symptoms:
- Tingling or pins and needles feeling in the extremities or entire body
- Trouble breathing
- Intense sweating
- Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
The longer the exposure to CO2 with no ventilation, the further these symptoms progress. Removing yourself from the environment and exposing your lungs to pure oxygen quickly eliminates the aforementioned effects.
When using any gas (CO2 or other) in a confined space, there are specific guidelines you need to adhere to for safety reasons. I’ve used CO2 on multiple occasions since I was first mesmerized by it, and now I get to watch my kids enjoy it mostly on Halloween. It’s acceptable to use and highly entertaining, as long as you take the correct precautions when you handle it.
Spooky CO2 Halloween Effects
CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a popular way to create spooky Halloween effects and make your party or event stand out. Fog machines are available at any party store, but I’ve always been a DIY guy.
In the past, I’ve used dry ice and hot water to achieve the desired result of creepy, rolling fog. We’ve even taken it further and added food coloring to the water to create green, red, or blue smoke.
Dry ice is a solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2) that sublimes at -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit (-78.5 degrees Celsius). It keeps food and drinks colder longer and for special effects in movies, theaters, and parties.
The process is simple and requires the placement of the dry ice into the hot water, creating a cool fog that forms around the dry ice. When the freezing surface of dry ice meets the hot water, thick fog develops rapidly. However, it’s important to remember the safe handling of dry ice and the dangers involved.
Whether you’re using dry ice or pure CO2 from a canister, it’s critical to stay mindful of safety guidelines to avoid injury.
Safe CO2 and Dry Ice Handling for Halloween
There’s never a guarantee that accidents won’t happen, but using these guidelines will undoubtedly lower your chances:
- Always wear protective gloves when handling dry ice or working with liquid CO2.
- Always keep liquid CO2 in a tightly sealed container when not in use.
- Never pour liquid CO2 on top of people or animals; severe onset of these cold temperatures causes injury. Use only approved containers with safety valves that allow gas release without breaking the container.
- Never handle dry ice with bare hands - always wear protective gloves when handling dry ice or working with liquid CO2.
Using CO2 in larger venues requires more attention to detail and following the proper guidelines.
CO2 In Concerts and Venues
One of the most significant benefits of CO2 also happens to be one of its greatest dangers. The fact that it’s odorless and tasteless gives you no gauge or system for monitoring the levels in the environment around you.
Although CO2 is not highly toxic when inhaled in small doses, it can be harmful to humans if it builds up in the lungs or blood. In large enough quantities, CO2 can lead to asphyxiation and death.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon dioxide at 5,000 parts per million (ppm). According to OSHA, these levels are safe for an eight-hour workday without exceeding OSHA's time-weighted average (TWA) limits of 5,000 ppm. These limits are based on scientific studies conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).
Even though the safe exposure limit for carbon dioxide is 5,000 ppm, often higher than limits reached during special effects scenarios, you will still feel lightheaded and perhaps slightly euphoric.
The following list outlines the different levels you must constantly monitor with a co2 meter:
- 5,000 ppm (lightheaded, slight euphoria)
- 6,000 ppm for 35 minutes results in unconsciousness
- 14,000 ppm for 110 minutes results in death
To put these figures into perspective, CO2 concentrations in the human body are typically around 300 ppm at rest and rise to 500 ppm during exercise.
Safety Practices for Indoor Venues
Use the following safety practices for any indoor venue using special effects:
- Do not allow people under 21 to enter or remain in any area where you're using CO2 special effects.
- Do not allow anyone who has consumed alcohol or drugs into an area where you're using CO2 special effects.
- Do not smoke while handling, installing, or servicing compressed gas equipment as part of its operation (e.g., generators).
- Make sure trained professionals install your CO2 system ad CO2 Meters / CO2 Monitors.
- Have an emergency plan for any potential issues with the system, such as leaks or malfunctions in the equipment.
- Make sure all staff members who work with CO2 are trained on how to use it safely before allowing them access to the equipment at your venue.
- Never shoot CO2 directly into the face of any fan or worker.
- CO2 blasts from guns, co2 cannons, co2 jet machines, or other special effects equipment should never exceed five seconds.
- Always have proper ventilation and allow ample time for initial blasts to clear.
- Always use a Co2 Meter / Co2 Monitor to check Co2 PPM levels in the air.
Failure to follow these rules leads to significant chances of experiencing an accident. Over time, several high-profile businesses and locations experienced their own CO2-related disasters.
CO2 Accidents In the Past
Consider the following real-life accidents in recent news as a result of CO2:
- In 2007, a CO2 tank exploded during a film shoot at Universal Studios in California. The blast injured several people on set, two of whom were critically injured and needed surgery. This accident was caused by improper use of the CO2 tank and poor maintenance of the equipment used on set.
- In 2013, a small explosion occurred when a student attempted to create fireworks using dry ice and sulfuric acid in his chemistry class at Auburn University in Alabama. The blast was caused by an unsafe mixture of chemicals that ignited when exposed to heat from an open flame or spark from friction against metal surfaces. The student suffered third-degree burns on his hands, face, and arms and required reconstructive surgery.
- In Detroit, a man’s wife and 10-month-old son were killed in their vehicle while waiting on a loved one to undergo a medical procedure. The cause of death was directly attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by high concentrations of CO2 and the emissions from the vehicle’s engine.
So, how do we ensure that these types of accidents don’t happen to us? We can all start by using common sense, but human error is common and doesn’t always provide enough reassurance of our safety.
Using a CO2 Meter, CO2 Monitor, or remote CO2 storage safety alarm and other tools available for monitoring the safe release of CO2 provides the extra element you need to avoid disaster. Portable and fixed monitors are available, depending on your specific needs on the job.
Image Links: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-cloud-rail-1708845/