Simply Stay Safe This Breeding Season

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Simply Stay Safe This Breeding Season

by B. Lynn Gordon                              

Safe practices for transportation and storage of semen tanks.      

Breeding season is a hectic time for producers. Priorities around the ranch shift to making the correct sire selections and heat detection, and for those who incorporate artificial insemination (AI) in their herds, placing timely semen orders to guarantee being prepared when the first cow cycles. 

When the artificial insemination (AI) company representative calls to declare your order is ready for pickup, you quickly put the semen tank on the seat of the pickup truck or in the wife’s SUV and send someone off to retrieve the order. 

But did you know that placing a semen tank in the same vehicle compartment as the driver is putting those individuals in harm’s way? 

Liquid nitrogen dangers

Liquid nitrogen (LN2) is a cryogenic liquid kept at extremely low temperatures. Liquid nitrogen has a boiling point of -320.5 degrees F. Often the most common hazard is extensive tissue damage or burns from exposure, reports the Department of  Environmental Health and Safety at Utah State University. 

All cryogenic liquids produce large amounts of gas when they vaporize, as is the case with nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen will expand to 700 times the volume of gas when vaporized. This rapid and extreme expansion can lead to oxygen displacement. It takes only a small volume of liquid nitrogen evaporating in a room to result in a dangerous situation. 

Utah State University further outlines that being odorless, colorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, nitrogen has no warning properties. Humans cannot detect nitrogen’s presence, resulting in the risk of asphyxiation when nitrogen displaces oxygen in the air to levels below that required to support life. The inhalation of nitrogen in excessive amounts can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and even death. Death may result from errors in judgment, confusion, or loss of consciousness that prevents self-rescue. Unconsciousness and death may occur at low oxygen concentration in seconds and without warning. 

Air quality levels

The oxygen level in fresh outside air is 20.9%. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) describes 19.5% oxygen as the onset of an oxygen-deficient environment. Anything lower than 19.5% will have a negative effect on a human, and the lower the amount gets, the worse the outcome will be. The response by the individual may vary depending on their health, physical activity, and the specific environment that they encounter. 

Health effects at each level of percent oxygen:

% Oxygen Physiological Effects 
20.94 Normal 
19.5 Unnoticeable physiological effects 
19 Unnoticeable physiological effects
18.5 Fatigue
18 Fatigue 
16 Impaired
14.7 IDHL (Immediately Dangerous to Health or Life) 




Source: National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety and ABS Global. 

Seeking answers 

ABS conducted several studies in 2010 to learn about the hazards of transporting liquid nitrogen semen tanks. In one study, ABS placed two newly filled tanks in the back seat of a crew cab truck. In three minutes, the pickup cab was unsafe for human occupancy. One hour later, the level of oxygen had depleted to 14.7%. In a similar test, the tank was tipped on its side. In less than one minute, the oxygen in the cab had fallen below 18.3%. Ten minutes later, the oxygen level depleted to 9.7%.

“Proper transportation methods of semen tanks are critical to remaining safe,” says Ron Zeihen, a safety specialist at ABS Global, DeForest, Wisconsin. “No one should have a semen tank inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle during transportation.”

Zeihen explains there is continual venting of nitrogen from the tank to prevent an explosion. In an airtight vehicle, this release of nitrogen can be deadly. Undetected leaks, the age of the tanks, and the length of time in an enclosed space all affect the risks of hauling a tank inside a vehicle. 

Gerald Feikema, a 35-year semen distribution representative from Brookings, South Dakota, was surprised to see the results of the ABS studies. When he thinks about his years in the business, he says, “I know of countless people in the AI industry who travel with semen tanks in the same compartment as themselves.” 

After learning about the impact on oxygen levels from the ABS Global study, the veteran distributor says, “I believe I may have been affected by nitrogen while driving to the point of fatigue or maybe even impairment.” 

Safe storage 

Because of the continual displacement of liquid nitrogen from semen tanks, caution must also be taken when storing tanks. In 2010, ABS also conducted several studies at their cryogenic warehouse. They placed ten tanks, newly filled, into a 12’ x 15’ (1440 cubic feet) enclosed, non-ventilated room. It took 18 minutes for the air to become unsafe for human occupancy (19.5% oxygen), and the longer the tanks sat, the more the oxygen level decreased.

To keep the tank safe, out of the way, and out of extreme weather, producers might place the tank in a confined room or closet. Placing one or more tanks in a poorly ventilated room or closing the door behind you when you enter a room can lead to danger.  “If you have tanks stored in a room or closet, make sure it is always ventilated. A pass-through air vent in the door can help keep airflow in the room,” Zeihen explains.   

Store tanks on a smooth, flat surface to prevent tipping. Keep the tank from being placed directly on the floor, by placing it on a pallet to preserve tank life. Always push larger cryogenic containers; never pull, tip, or roll tanks. 

Travel safe   

ABS conducted these studies because the company was curious about oxygen depletion. They wanted to make sure their employees and others in the industry were safe. Merlyn Sandbulte, ABS Global Beef Business Manager, Rock Valley, Iowa, encourages producers to get creative and develop a system to carry the tanks in the bed of the pickup. His solution was to place the tank in the center of the inner tube of a tire. Some of his co-workers built a wooden box specifically designed to hold a tank. Both are good options; however, keep in mind that the tank must be secure so that it does not become a projectile in the case of an accident. 

“Losing a cattle producer because of lack of awareness of the dangers of transporting a tank inside the cab would be a devastating situation to all of us,” adds Feikema. “Take these safety precautions, so you can concentrate on getting the cows bred this season, not worrying about endangering your family,” reiterate Zeihen and Sandbulte.\

Oxygen Depletion Rescue Awareness 

  • When a person has suffered from a lack of oxygen, they need to be moved to fresh air immediately. 
  • If the person is not breathing, administer artificial respiration.
  •  If breathing is difficult, administer oxygen. Obtain immediate medical attention. 
  • Do not attempt to rescue an individual that has been overcome due to lack of oxygen. The rescuer then becomes the second victim.

Source: Utah State University, Office of Research, Environmental Health and Safety. 

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