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Environmental Health
& Safety


Medical Center
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Phone:  (212) 305-6780


Morningside Campus
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New York, NY  10027
Phone:  (212) 854-8749


FDNY and Cryogenic Liquids

Cryogenic liquids are widely used in research at Columbia University, and can be dangerous if not stored or handled properly.  Cryogenics are extremely cold, typically colder than -130 ° F (-90° C).  The most commonly used cryogenic at Columbia are liquid nitrogen, argon, oxygen, and helium.  The hazards for handling and storage of cryogenic liquids are associated with this extreme cold and the expansion rate of the liquid as it vaporizes.  Liquid nitrogen expands to 700 times its liquid volume if released at room temperature.  In a confined area the resultant displacement of oxygen can result in serious injury, even death.  If liquid oxygen is spilled, an oxygen enriched atmosphere would be generated.  In this atmosphere, the potential for a fire would be greatly increased and if a fire were to occur, it would burn more vigorously. 

In addition, cryogenic liquids require care when handling and dispensing. Due to their extremely low temperature, cryogenic liquids pose a significant danger to exposed skin and eye tissue.  These liquids or even their vapors can cause frostbite.  Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) includes loose fitting gloves, and a full-face eye shield whenever handling or dispensing cryogenics.  It is also recommended that pants (not shorts) without cuffs, appropriate footwear (no sandals or Crocs) and long sleeves be worn when handling cryogenics. 

The New York City Fire Department’s new Fire Code, enacted July 1, 2008 (see details below), requires that users of cryogenic liquid at locations containing over 60 gallons obtain a G-97, or “Storage, Handling and Use of Cryogenic Liquids” Certificate of Fitness,.   EH&S, has developed an on-line training module (www.rascal.columbia.edu) to help researchers using cryogenic liquids meet the FDNY Code requirements.  The Fire Department has allowed EH&S to provide training and an on-site exam to meet the new fire code requirements; without this permission, researchers would have to interrupt their workday and travel to Brooklyn to take the exam.    Laboratories that have more than 60 gallons of cryogenic liquids can have their (C-14) Certificate of Fitness holder (Chemical Laboratory Supervisor) take the on-line RASCAL training and exam.   Please visit the EH&S website http://ehs.columbia.edu/indexMC.html and click on the Fire Safety link for information to obtain the G-97 Certificate of Fitness.

Details, New FDNY Fire Code

  • A laboratory, in which more than 60 gallons of cryogenic liquids are present (more than 1 large cylinder), requires a Certificate of Fitness holder (G-97) for “Storage, Handling and Use of Cryogenic Liquids”.
  • In these laboratories an O2 sensor must be installed*.  Cryogenic cylinders cannot be stored within 3 feet of a laboratory exit door, unless there is a secondary means of egress from that lab.
  • No more than one cryogenic cylinder may be stored in any corridor
  • Please see FDNY links below for additional details.

* See http://ehs.columbia.edu/O2OxygenSensors.html for information regarding O2 sensors.  EH&S is working with an outside vendor (TechAir) to install sensors where volumes exceed 60 gallons.  To reduce the number of sensors necessary across campus please consider one of following to limit storage to less than 60 gallons:

  • Schedule more frequent deliveries.
  • Cohort cryogenics in one room so that a sensor is needed in one room, not several.
  • Distribute tanks and Dewars among multiple labs.

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