Journal Article

Oxygen Depletion and Formation of Toxic Gases following Sea Transportation of Logs and Wood Chips

Urban Svedberg, Caroline Petrini and Gunnar Johanson

in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene

Published on behalf of British Occupational Hygiene Society

Volume 53, issue 8, pages 779-787
Published in print November 2009 | ISSN: 0003-4878
Published online September 2009 | e-ISSN: 1475-3162 | DOI:

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Several recent accidents with fatal outcomes occurring during discharge of logs and wood chips from ships in Swedish ports indicate the need to better understand the atmospheric conditions in holds and connecting stairways. The principal aim of the present study was to assess the air levels of oxygen and toxic gases in confined spaces following sea transportation of logs and wood chips. The focus of the study was the conditions in the stairways, as this was the location of the reported accidents. Forty-one shipments of logs (pulpwood) and wood chips carried by 10 different ships were investigated before discharge in ports in northern Sweden. A full year was covered to accommodate variations due to seasonal temperature changes. The time from completion of loading to discharge was estimated to be 37–66 h (mean 46 h). Air samples were collected in the undisturbed air of altogether 76 stairways before the hatch covers were removed. The oxygen level was measured on-site by handheld direct-reading multi-gas monitors. On 16 of the shipments, air samples were additionally collected in Tedlar® bags for later analysis for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons by fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The mean oxygen level was 10% (n = 76) but in 17% of the samples the oxygen level was 0%. The oxygen depletion was less pronounced during the cold season. The mean CO2 and CO levels were 7.5% (n = 26) and 46 p.p.m. (n = 28), respectively. More than 90% of the hydrocarbons were explained by monoterpenes, mainly α-pinene (mean 41 p.p.m., (n = 26). In conclusion, the measurements show that transport of logs and wood chips in confined spaces may result in rapid and severe oxygen depletion and CO2 formation. Thus, apparently harmless cargoes may create potentially life-threatening conditions. The oxygen depletion and CO2 formation are seemingly primarily caused by microbiological activity, in contrast to the oxidative processes with higher CO formation that predominate in cargoes of wood pellets. Improved technical and organizational measures are considered necessary to prevent future accidents. Recommendations given regarding safe entry procedures and technical preventive methods may also apply to other oxygen-depleting products.

Keywords: confined spaces; hazard assessment; seamen

Journal Article.  4869 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Occupational Medicine

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