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Ann Occup Hyg. 2008 Jun;52(4):259-66. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/men013. Epub 2008 Apr 7.

Hazardous off-gassing of carbon monoxide and oxygen depletion during ocean transportation of wood pellets.

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Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Sundsvall Hospital, Sundsvall, Sweden.


Five ocean vessels were investigated for the characterization and quantification of gaseous compounds emitted during ocean transportation of wood pellets in closed cargo hatches from Canada to Sweden. The study was initiated after a fatal accident with several injured during discharge in Sweden. The objective with the investigation was to better understand the off-gassing and issues related to workers' exposure. Air sampling was done during transport and immediately before discharge in the undisturbed headspace air above the wood pellets and in the staircase adjacent to each hatch. The samples were analyzed with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and direct reading instruments. The following compounds and ranges were detected in samples from the five ships: carbon monoxide (CO) 1460-14650 ppm, carbon dioxide (CO2) 2960-21570 ppm, methane 79.9-956 ppm, butane equivalents 63-842 ppm, ethylene 2-21.2 ppm, propylene 5.3-36 ppm, ethane 0-25 ppm and aldehydes 2.3-35 ppm. The oxygen levels were between 0.8 and 16.9%. The concentrations in the staircases were almost as high as in the cargo hatches, indicating a fairly free passage of air between the two spaces. A potentially dangerous atmosphere was reached within a week from loading. The conclusions are that ocean transportation of wood pellets in confined spaces may produce an oxygen deficient atmosphere and lethal levels of CO which may leak into adjacent access spaces. The dangerous combination of extremely high levels of CO and reduced oxygen produces a fast-acting toxic combination. Measurement of CO in combination with oxygen is essential prior to entry in spaces having air communication with cargo hatches of wood pellets. Forced ventilation of staircases prior to entry is necessary. Redesign, locking and labeling of access doors and the establishment of rigorous entry procedures and training of onboard crew as well as personnel boarding ocean vessels are also important.


confined space; emissions; exposure measurements; oxygen deficiency; seamen

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