Do people need nitrogen from air for health?

Do people need nitrogen from air for health?

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Can people breath totally nitrogen-free atmosphere for a long time? I know, nitrogen is essential for life, and in big quantities, but maybe people can take it entirely from food, from proteins, etc?

Do people need nitrogen from air for health?

No. This is well established!

Can people breath totally nitrogen-free atmosphere for a long time?

Yes. Also well established!

I know, nitrogen is essential for life, and in big quantities, but maybe people can take it entirely from food, from proteins, etc?

As expounded on in the comments by AliceD, nitrogen gas (N2) is entirely taken in by humans from their diet, since atmospheric N2 is pretty inert. It is also not necessary for gas exchange to take place in the lungs.

Some extra questions as an addendum:

Can one substitute N2 in atmospheric air with another gas, and sustain human life?

Yes. All side effects would be attributable to the effects of the substituting gas (e.g. it may be heavier or lighter or equally or more reactive than N2).

Can 100% O2 sustain human life?

No, and such a case has never been recorded. Oxygen toxicity following hyperoxia is very dangerous. Ironically, too much oxygen damages lung tissue and epithelial membranes via oxidation and render the lungs unable to exchange gases correctly; and so death by suffocation follows in such extreme cases such as with 100% O2.

2.1 Studies on human populations indicate that long-term exposure to NO2 levels currently observed in Europe may decrease lung function and increase the risk of respiratory symptoms such as acute bronchitis and cough and phlegm, particularly in children. Even though some studies have shown associations between NO2 exposure and mortality, present evidence is not sufficient to conclude that effects on mortality can be attributed to long-term exposure to NO2 itself (see also 3.3 ). More.

2.2 NO2 alone has been shown to cause acute health effects in controlled human exposure studies. Studies on human populations have not been able to isolate potential effects of NO2, because of the complex link between concentrations in ambient air of NO2, particulate matter, and ozone. More.

2.3 Several studies have shown that NO2 exposure increases allergic responses to inhaled pollens. More.

2.4 People with asthma and children in general are considered to be more vulnerable to NO2 exposure. More.

2.5 There is no evidence for a threshold for exposure to NO2 below which no effects on health are expected. More.

Why do we Need Nitrogen?

Nitrogen is an interesting element as it exists in balance with oxygen. Oxygen has a radical, explosive quality while nitrogen is more restrained. If nitrogen replaced oxygen, we would die of suffocation. If nitrogen were removed from the air, we would burn up from the oxygen. So it’s part of a life-giving balance. There are about 3.8 pounds of organic nitrogen in the body. Nitrogen is the critical element in protein. When we talk about nitrogen, we are, in a sense, talking more about protein. What contains nitrogen in our body are albumins, protein compounds, alkaloid agents, and ammonia and its breakdown products. Nitrogen, in combination with hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, is needed for power and strength and vitality for all organs. In the muscle system, myosin, which is the principle protein in muscle, is made of 17 percent nitrogen.

People with excess nitrogen have a tendency for low heat generation, tender tissues, swarthy complexion, and often faulty oxidation. There is a tendency toward nervous system difficulties. They also manifest lethargy, deep sleep, glandular swelling, loose teeth, and have slow wound, fracture, and bone healing. In these nitrogen-excess people, the liver, kidney, and intestines are overworked, and bones and joints are susceptible to injury. Mental states they tend to have are ones of being unconscious, melancholic, and filled with fears and anxieties. They also suffer from significant absentmindedness, sleepiness, colds, and flus. In general, their immunity is deficient and their body is quite acid. Mentally, high-nitrogen-excess people tend to go into shock from fear, sorrow, failures, operations, and accidents because their nerves are so out of balance and high-strung. In general, nitrogen-excess people tend to eat an excess of flesh foods, as a result of autotoxemia, which in turn weakens their emotional, physical, and immune systems.

Nitrogen-deficient people tend to be the opposite of conservative they tend to have rash and compulsive behavior and are impatient and quick to judge and act. Their depressions are intense and their tact is minimal. These people tend to have low vitality and an erratic emotional state, as well as mental state. The treatment of low-nitrogen people is not simply increasing protein they need a certain amount of free nitrogen, which is available in a very nitrogen-rich atmosphere, as exists in a warm humid climate, such as in California, Hawaii, or Florida. Any locations with a low altitude and much vegetation empathetically encourages improved nitrogen metabolism and low nitrogen retention in the
body. Signs of nitrogen deficiency are feebleness, numbness, muscular weakness, fatigue, absentmindedness, no sexual energy, hypochondria, lack of desire to work, cracking the tendons, and brain weakness.

Foods high in nitrogen include all protein foods, spices, nuts, almonds, walnuts, beans, lentils, pignolia nuts, dried peas, spirulina, chlorella, and algae in general.

Nitrogen In The Air Feeds The Oceans

A decade-long USC study has written the ending to a long-standingmystery: Where do marine organisms in the tropical oceans get thenitrogen they need to grow?

In the process, the study also may help to explain how tons ofcarbon dioxide disappear into the ocean every day, slowing theprogress of global warming.

Nitrogen is a building block of life and an essential nutrient forphytoplankton and other aquatic life. Biologists have long knownthat as dead organic matter decomposes in the depths of the ocean,nitrogen breaks free and drifts upward.

The problem is that not nearly enough nitrogen rises up to nourishall of the teeming life near the surface.

In a paper chosen for a commentary in the current issue of Nature,a team led by biological oceanographer Douglas Capone of the USCCollege of Letters, Arts and Sciences confirms that certain aquaticmicroorganisms draw huge amounts of nitrogen from the air.

Previous estimates suggested that nitrogen fixation from theatmosphere played only a very minor role in the oceans. The term"fixation" describes the process by which dinitrogen, an inert gas,is transformed into usable chemical forms such as nitrate, acompound of nitrogen and oxygen.

More recent geochemical estimates hinted at a larger role fornitrogen fixation. Capone's study provides direct evidence.

"Capone and colleagues now demonstrate, in the most exhaustiveand comprehensive study so far, that over large regions of thetropical and subtropical Atlantic, biological N2 fixation is indeedsubstantial," writes Nicolas Gruber of the University of California,Los Angeles, in the News & Views section of Nature. "In apainstaking effort, they measured N2 fixation rates . at more than150 stations during six cruises.

"[N2 fixation] provides the ecosystem of the illuminated ocean witha source of new nitrogen that rivals the vertical supply of nitrate."

Capone said that his project, begun in 1994, has yielded "the mostrobust estimate" of the scale of nitrogen fixation.

"It's providing a rigorous assessment of how quantitativelyimportant this process is," he said.

The study, published recently in Global Biogeochemical Cycles,focused on the marine organism Trichodesmium, the best-known"fixer" of atmospheric nitrogen.

Though it is only one of many nitrogen fixers in the ocean,Trichodesmium's contribution alone is nearly 10 times greater thanprevious estimates of oceanic N2 fixation worldwide.

"What makes Capone and colleagues' study particularlycompelling is that they estimated N2 fixation rates using an array ofindependent methods, each with their own strengths andweaknesses. This results in an unprecedented level of confidence inthe estimates obtained," Gruber writes in Nature.

The study has implications for climate science.

An old misconception, even within the scientific community, isthat photosynthesis in the ocean removes carbon dioxide from theair. But Capone and others have pointed out that nitrogen risingfrom the depths brings with it enough carbon dioxide forphotosynthesis by phytoplankton and other marine organisms.

Only photosynthesis that draws on nitrogen outside the ocean cancause a net removal of carbon dioxide from the air. External nitrogencomes from rivers, atmospheric deposition, and on a larger scale,N2 fixation, Capone said.

The new study's estimate of global N2 fixation is large enough toaccount for the uptake by photosynthesis of the 1.5 billion metrictons of carbon dioxide thought to enter the ocean each year. Theamount represents 10 to 20 percent of annual carbon production,he said.

In theory, if Trichodesmium and other nitrogen fixers could bestimulated to grow, the oceans could increase their uptake ofcarbon dioxide.

Since N2 fixers are often limited by nutrients other than nitrogen -typically phosphorus or iron - seeding the ocean with suchnutrients could lead to some reduction in greenhouse gases. In oneventure chronicled in Nature, the musician Neil Young lent hisyacht to a group that fertilized the waters off Hawaii with ironpowder.

Capone counsels caution, citing studies that suggest large-scaleocean fertilization might eventually make the atmosphere moretoxic.

But Capone's lifework has convinced research groups at theUniversity of Maryland and Woods Hole OceanographicInstitution to incorporate N2 fixation as a variable in their modelsof carbon dioxide uptake and other biochemical cycles in the ocean.

It has been a long journey to substantiate the importance ofnitrogen fixation, which was proposed decades ago by, amongothers, USC's Richard C. Dugdale.

"Dick first demonstrated in a small paper he published in Deep SeaResearch in 1961 that there was some nitrogen fixation occurring inthe sea with Trichodesmium," Capone said.

Nitrogen gas is not highly reactive with other molecules in the atmosphere and is mainly present in air as N2. Nitrogen’s unreactive behavior results from the powerful triple bonds that form between the three pairs of electrons shared between two nitrogen atoms. These bonds have relatively short radii, which requires more energy to break. Nitrogen becomes more reactive at higher temperatures. At lower temperatures, the presence of certain catalysts causes nitrogen to become more reactive with other molecules. One common nitrogen-based reaction that occurs in the atmosphere is the formation of NO, nitrogen oxide, during storms when lightning strikes.

Nitrogen is important to all organisms because it forms the basis of many compounds necessary for life. Proteins, enzymes, hormones and chlorophyll all contain nitrogen. Nucleic acids also contain nitrogen and form the long chains of nucleotides that make up the backbone of DNA and RNA. However, living things cannot use N2 in its gaseous form in the atmosphere. Nitrogen gas found in air pockets within soil is converted into a form usable by plants through a process called nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen-fixing organisms include certain types of bacteria and other micro-organisms that live on the roots of legumes such as soybeans, alfalfa and red clover. The micro-organisms convert N2 into other compounds such as ammonium and nitrate, which are taken up by plant roots. Consumers eat the plants and later deposit nitrogen compounds back into the soil through elimination or decomposition. Plants also return nitrogen to the soil when they decompose. The nitrogen-fixing micro-organisms in soil break down these compounds, and the nitrogen cycle continues.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is a familiar environmental health hazard. We know what we&rsquore looking at when brown haze settles over a city, exhaust billows across a busy highway, or a plume rises from a smokestack. Some air pollution is not seen, but its pungent smell alerts you.

When the National Ambient Air Quality Standards were established in 1970, air pollution was regarded primarily as a threat to respiratory health. Over the next decades as air pollution research advanced, public health concern broadened to include cardiovascular disease diabetes mellitus obesity and reproductive, neurological, and immune system disorders.

Air pollution exposure is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation in human cells, which may lay a foundation for chronic diseases and cancer. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified air pollution as a human carcinogen .

What Is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is a mix of hazardous substances from both human-made and natural sources.

Vehicle emissions, fuel oils and natural gas to heat homes, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, particularly coal-fueled power plants, and fumes from chemical production are the primary sources of human-made air pollution.

Nature releases hazardous substances into the air, such as smoke from wildfires, which are often caused by people ash and gases from volcanic eruptions and gases, like methane, which are emitted from decomposing organic matter in soils.

Traffic-Related Air Pollution (TRAP), from motor vehicle emissions, may be the most recognizable form of air pollution. It contains most of the elements of human-made air pollution: ground-level ozone, various forms of carbon, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and fine particulate matter.

Ozone, an atmospheric gas, is often called smog when at ground level. It is created when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight.

Noxious gases, which include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur oxides (SOx), are components of motor vehicle emissions and byproducts of industrial processes.

Particulate matter (PM) is composed of chemicals such as sulfates, nitrates, carbon, or mineral dusts. Vehicle and industrial emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cigarette smoke, and burning organic matter, such as wildfires, all contain PM.

A subset of PM, fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 30 times thinner than a human hair. It can be inhaled deeply into lung tissue and contribute to serious health problems. PM 2.5 accounts for most health effects due to air pollution in the U.S.

Volatile organic compounds (VOC) vaporize at or near room temperature&mdashhence, the designation volatile. They are called organic because they contain carbon. VOCs are given off by paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, some furnishings, and even craft materials like glue. Gasoline and natural gas are major sources of VOCs, which are released during combustion.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen. Of more than 100 PAHs known to be widespread in the environment, 15 are listed in the Report on Carcinogens . In addition to combustion, many industrial processes, such as iron, steel, and rubber product manufacturing, as well as power generation, also produce PAHs as a by-product. PAHs are also found in particulate matter.

Liquid Nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen is inert, colorless, odorless, non corrosive, nonflammable, and extremely cold. Nitrogen makes up the major portion of the atmosphere (78% by volume). Nitrogen is inert and will not support combustion however, it is not life supporting. When nitrogen is converted to liquid form it becomes a cryogenic liquid.

Cryogenic liquids are liquefied gases that have a normal boiling point below -150 o C (-238 o F). Liquid nitrogen has a boiling point of -195.8 o C (-320.5 o F). All cryogenic liquids produce large amounts of gas when they vaporize.

Health Effects

Extensive tissue damage or burns can result from exposure to liquid nitrogen or cold nitrogen vapors.

Being odorless, colorless, tasteless, and nonirritating, nitrogen has no warning properties. Humans possess no senses that can detect the presence of nitrogen. Although nitrogen is nontoxic and inert, it can act as a simple asphyxiant by displacing oxygen in air to levels below that required to support life. Inhalation of nitrogen in excessive amounts can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death. Death may result from errors in judgment, confusion, or loss of consciousness that prevents self-rescue. At low oxygen concentration, unconsciousness and death may occur in seconds and without warning.

Personnel, including rescue workers, should not enter areas where the oxygen concentration is below 19.5%, unless provided with a self-contained breathing apparatus or air-line respirator.


Liquid nitrogen is stored, shipped, and handled in several types of containers, depending upon the quantity required by the user. The types of containers in use are the dewar, cryogenic liquid cylinder, and cryogenic storage tank.


This type of container is a non-pressurized container. The unit of measure for the capacity of a dewar is typically the liter. Five to 200 liter dewars are available. Product may be removed from small dewars by pouring, while larger sizes will require a transfer tube. Cryogenic liquid cylinders that are pressurized vessels are sometimes incorrectly referred to as dewars.

Cryogenic Liquid Cylinders

Cryogenic liquid cylinders are insulated, vacuum-jacketed pressure vessels. They come equipped with safety relief valves and rupture discs to protect the cylinders from pressure buildup. These containers operate at pressures up to 350 psig and have capacities between 80 and 450 liters of liquid.

Cryogenic Storage Tanks

Tanks may be spherical or cylindrical in shape. They are mounted in fixed locations as stationary vessels. Tanks are designed to ASME specifications for the pressures and temperatures involved.

Use only suitable vessels for the handling and/or transport of cryogenic liquids. Do not store liquid nitrogen in any container with a tight fitting lid a loose fitting lid helps preventing air and moisture from entering the container and at the same time allows pressure to escape.

Safety Considerations

Cold contact burns

Liquid or low-temperature gas from any of the specified cryogenic substances will produce effects on the skin similar to a burn. The extremely low temperature of the liquid can cause severe frostbite or eye damage upon contact. Symptoms of frostbite include change in skin color to white or grayish yellow and the pain after contact with liquid nitrogen may quickly subside. Items in contact with liquid nitrogen become extremely cold. Touching these items may result in torn flesh.


Liquid nitrogen gas released in a confined space can displace sufficient oxygen to make the atmosphere incapable of sustaining life and cause asphyxiation without warning. Degrees of asphyxia will occur when the oxygen content of the working environment is less than 20.9% by volume. Effects from oxygen deficiency become noticeable at levels below

18% and sudden death may occur at

6% oxygen content by volume. This decrease in oxygen content can be caused by a failure/leak of the cryogenic vessel or transfer line and subsequent vaporization of the cryogen.

Explosion – Pressure

Heat flux into the cryogen from the environment will vaporize the liquid and potentially cause pressure buildup in cryogenic containment vessels and transfer lines. On vaporization liquid nitrogen expands by a factor of 696 one liter of liquid nitrogen becomes 24.6 cubic feet of nitrogen gas. Adequate pressure relief must be provided to all parts of a system to permit this routine out gassing and prevent explosion.

Explosions – Chemical

Cryogenic fluids with a boiling point below that of liquid oxygen are able to condense oxygen from the atmosphere. Repeated replenishment of the system can thereby cause oxygen to accumulate as an unwanted contaminant. Similar oxygen enrichment may occur where condensed air accumulates on the exterior of cryogenic piping. Violent reactions, e.g. rapid combustions or explosion, may occur if the materials which make contact with the oxygen are combustible.


Because of the large expansion ratio of liquid to gas (1:696), it is important to provide adequate ventilation in areas using liquid nitrogen. A minimum of six air changes per hour is required in these areas.

Oxygen level monitoring should be provided for areas where oxygen displacement may occur.

OSHA has established 19.5% oxygen concentration as the minimum for working without supplied air.

Remember, nitrogen has no warning properties!

Storage and Handling

Store and use liquid nitrogen containers with adequate ventilation. Do not store containers in confined areas or in areas unprotected from the extremes of weather. Cryogenic containers are equipped with pressure relief devices designed to control the internal pressure. Under normal condition these containers will periodically vent product. Do not plug, remove or tamper with any pressure relief device.

Cryogenic containers must be stored, handled, and transported in the upright position. When moving never tip, slide, or roll containers on their side. Use a suitable hand truck for moving smaller containers. Move larger container by pushing, not pulling.

Use freight elevators whenever possible to transport liquid nitrogen. Do not ride in the elevator with the liquid nitrogen. Make arrangements for someone to send the elevator to a receiving person waiting on the desired floor.

Avoid mechanical and thermal shock.

Never leave the vessel unattended while transferring liquid nitrogen. Ensure that the delivery of the liquid nitrogen is directly below the mouth of the receiving vessel. Always fill warm dewars slowly to reduce temperature shock effects and to minimize splashing. Do not fill cylinders and dewars to more than 80% of capacity.

Never allow any unprotected part of the body to come in contact with uninsulated pipes or equipment containing cryogenic product. The extreme cold will cause flesh to stick fast and potentially tear on withdrawal.

If there is any difficulty in operating the container valve or container connections discontinue use and contact the vendor.

Do not remove or interchange connections. Use only the properly assigned connections. Do not use adapters.

Use only transfer lines and equipment designed for use with cryogenic liquids. Some elastomers and metals, such as carbon steel, may become brittle at extremely low temperatures and may easily fracture. These materials must be avoided in cryogenic service.

On gas withdrawal systems use check valves or other protective apparatus to prevent reverse flow in the containers. On liquid systems pressure relief devices must be used in lines where there is the potential to trap liquid between valves. It is recommended that all vents be piped to the exterior of the building.

Liquid containers should not be left open to the atmosphere for extended periods. Keep all valves closed and outlet caps in place when not in use. If restriction results from freezing moisture or foreign material present in openings and vents contact the vendor for instructions. Restrictions and blockages may result in dangerous over-pressurization. Do not attempt to remove the restriction without proper instructions. If possible move the cylinder to a remote location.

Storage of Cryovials

Use only manufacturer approved containers (e.g. cyrovials) for storage in liquid nitrogen.

Laboratory personnel must use extreme caution when preserving samples in liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen storage consists of a liquid phase and a gaseous phase. If cyrovials are immersed in the liquid phase, liquid nitrogen can enter the closed cyrovials during storage. The cryovial may then explode when it is removed from storage due to the vaporization and expansion (1:696 expansion ratio) of the liquid nitrogen inside the cryovial.

Do not store cryovials in the liquid phase of liquid nitrogen unless specifically approved by the manufacturer for liquid phase storage. If storage in the liquid nitrogen liquid phase is required use only manufacturer approved cryovials specifically designed for liquid phase storage. Use gaseous phase approved cyrovials that are then sealed in an outer protective envelope designed for use in liquid nitrogen. The risk of explosion of cryovials stored in the liquid phase can be reduced by moving cryovials to the gaseous phase in the liquid nitrogen container for at least 24 hours prior to removal.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personnel must be thoroughly familiar with properties and safety considerations before being allowed to handle liquid nitrogen and/or its associated equipment.

Eyes are most sensitive to the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen and its vapors. The recommended personal protective equipment when handling or using liquid nitrogen is a full face shield over safety glasses/goggles loose-fitting thermal insulated gloves and long-sleeved shirts and pants without cuffs. In addition, safety shoes are recommended for those involved with the handling of liquid nitrogen containers.

First Aid

In the event a person is injured by liquid nitrogen, the following first aid treatment should be given pending the care of a physician ONLY if there is no risk to you.

For skin contact with cryogenic liquid nitrogen, remove any clothing that may restrict circulation to the frozen area. Do not rub frozen parts, as tissue damage may result. People with frostbitten feet should not walk on them. As soon as practical place the affected area in a warm water bath that has a temperature not in excess of 105o F (40o C). Never use dry heat.

Frozen tissue is painless and appears waxy with a possible yellow color. It will become swollen, painful, and prone to infection when thawed. If the frozen part of the body has been thawed, cover the area with a dry sterile dressing with a large bulky protective covering, pending medical care. In case of massive exposure, remove clothing while showering the victim with warm water. Do not use hot water. Call a physician immediately.

If the eyes are exposed to the extreme cold of the liquid nitrogen or its vapors, immediately warm the frostbite area with warm water not exceeding 105 o F (40 o C) and seek immediate medical attention.

Take a copy of the MSDS to the physician.

People suffering from lack of oxygen should be moved to fresh air. If the victim 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.


Air Products Safetygram-7: Liquid Nitrogen
Air Products Safetygram-27: Cryogenic Liquid Containers
NuncTM Cryopreservation Manual

World changing technology enables crops to take nitrogen from the air

A major new technology has been developed by The University of Nottingham, which enables all of the world's crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than expensive and environmentally damaging fertilisers.

Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very small number of plants, most notably legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham's Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonise all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant's nitrogen needs.

A leading world expert in nitrogen and plant science, Professor Cocking has long recognised that there is a critical need to reduce nitrogen pollution caused by nitrogen based fertilisers. Nitrate pollution is a major problem as is also the pollution of the atmosphere by ammonia and oxides of nitrogen.

In addition, nitrate pollution is a health hazard and also causes oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in our waterways and oceans. A recent study estimates that that the annual cost of damage caused by nitrogen pollution across Europe is £60 billion—£280 billion a year.1

Speaking about the technology, which is known as 'N-Fix', Professor Cocking said: "Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of World Food Security. The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs."

N-Fix is neither genetic modification nor bio-engineering. It is a naturally occurring nitrogen fixing bacteria which takes up and uses nitrogen from the air. Applied to the cells of plants (intra-cellular) via the seed, it provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix nitrogen. Plant seeds are coated with these bacteria in order to create a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship and naturally produce nitrogen.

N-Fix is a natural nitrogen seed coating that provides a sustainable solution to fertiliser overuse and Nitrogen pollution. It is environmentally friendly and can be applied to all crops. Over the last 10 years, The University of Nottingham has conducted a series of extensive research programmes which have established proof of principal of the technology in the laboratory, growth rooms and glasshouses.

The University of Nottingham's Plant and Crop Sciences Division is internationally acclaimed as a centre for fundamental and applied research, underpinning its understanding of agriculture, food production and quality, and the natural environment. It also has one of the largest communities of plant scientists in the UK.

Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property Commercialisation at The University of Nottingham, believes that the N-Fix technology has significant implications for agriculture, she said: "There is a substantial global market for the N-Fix technology, as it can be applied globally to all crops. N-Fix has the power to transform agriculture, while at the same time offering a significant cost benefit to the grower through the savings that they will make in the reduced costs of fertilisers. It is a great example of how University research can have a world-changing impact."

The N-Fix technology has been licensed by The University of Nottingham to Azotic Technologies Ltd to develop and commercialise N-Fix globally on its behalf for all crop species.

Peter Blezard, CEO of Azotic Technologies added: "Agriculture has to change and N-Fix can make a real and positive contribution to that change. It has enormous potential to help feed more people in many of the poorer parts of the world, while at the same time, dramatically reducing the amount of synthetic nitrogen produced in the world."

The proof of concept has already been demonstrated. The uptake and fixation of nitrogen in a range of crop species has been proven to work in the laboratory and Azotic is now working on field trials in order to produce robust efficacy data. This will be followed by seeking regulatory approval for N-Fix initially in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil, with more countries to follow.

It is anticipated that the N-Fix technology will be commercially available within the next two to three years.

Nitrogen: The Silent Killer

Nitrogen is an invisible, tasteless and odorless gas that comprises about 78 percent of the air we breathe. But its potential to kill workers in or near confined spaces should never be underestimated.

On Nov. 5, 2005, two contractors working at Valero Energy Corp.'s Delaware City, Del., oil refinery died from nitrogen asphyxiation. Interviews conducted by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) indicate the two men were assigned to re-attach piping to a vessel as part of preparations to bring the vessel back online.

Based on the results of CSB's investigation at press time the agency is expected to issue its final investigation report in October one possible scenario is the first victim may have inhaled concentrated nitrogen while working outside the confined space, directly above the access opening on top of the reactor, and then passed out and fell into the vessel.

After the first contract worker collapsed inside the vessel, witnesses told CSB the second contract worker entered the vessel, likely in an attempt to rescue his fallen colleague. The two workers "were quickly overcome" by the high-purity nitrogen gas, explains John Vorderbrueggen, PE, CSB's lead investigator for the Valero incident.

"They were in an environment that had probably less than 1 percent oxygen," Vorderbrueggen says. An oxygen concentration below 19 1/2 percent is considered unsafe for workers when the oxygen content drops to about 8 or 10 percent, Vorderbrueggen adds, "you don't have much of a chance."

The Valero incident prompted CSB member John Bresland to remind stakeholders: "Nitrogen is a silent killer."

"You will not recognize you're in trouble in time to take action to save yourself," CSB Investigation Manager Bill Hoyle concurs. "That makes it an extremely hazardous situation, despite the fact that [nitrogen] is the largest constituent of air we breathe."

CSB compiled data from federal agencies, media reports and other sources to track workplace deaths and injuries between 1992 and 2002 that were caused by nitrogen asphyxiation. According to CSB, during that decade there were 85 nitrogen asphyxiation incidents, resulting in 80 fatalities and 50 injuries.

Of those 85 incidents, 67 incidents involved situations in which workers were in or near a confined space.

CSB reviewed the 85 total incidents and identified several major categories of causes:

  • Failure to detect an oxygen-deficient atmosphere In each of the 67 incidents involving confined spaces, personnel failed to detect elevated levels of nitrogen and take appropriate precautions. In the 2005 Valero incident, CSB noted the work permit issued to the contractors did not mention a nitrogen hazard, nor did it require the use of special breathing apparatus.
  • Fatalities and injuries during attempted rescue Approximately 10 percent of fatalities from the CSB data were co-workers attempting to rescue fallen colleagues in confined spaces, as appears to be the case in the Valero incident.
  • Mix-up of nitrogen and breathing air Confusing nitrogen gas with air, and problems with breathing-air delivery systems, accounted for 12 of the 85 total incidents. In one case, workers inadvertently connected the hose for their breathing-air respirator to a pure nitrogen line.

CSB, in a 2003 bulletin titled Hazards of Nitrogen Asphyxiation, discussed a number of "good practices for safe handling of nitrogen." They are detailed here.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146 Permit-Required Confined Spaces for general industry requires employers to identify all confined spaces in their workplace and then to determine if any of those are permit-required confined spaces. A permit-required confined space is a confined space containing a hazardous atmosphere, an engulfment hazard, an entrapment or asphyxiation hazard or some other serious safety and health hazard.

As OSHA occupational safety and health specialist Patrick Kapust explains, employers need to clearly understand that confined spaces with elevated nitrogen concentrations (i.e., reduced oxygen concentrations below safe levels) qualify as a permit-required confined space.

"If the confined space contains an actual or potential atmospheric hazard, it's a permit-required confined space," Kapust says.

To warn workers of nitrogen-enriched atmospheres and other permit-required confined spaces, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146(c)(2) requires the posting of a warning sign for example, "Danger: Permit-Required Confined Space, Do Not Enter" or "any other equally effective means."

CSB, in addition, recommends installing devices such as flashing lights, audible alarms and auto-locking entryways to prevent access. Personal monitors can warn workers via an audible or vibration alarm of low oxygen concentrations.

Continuous Atmospheric Monitoring

Because the atmosphere in a confined space may be unfit for breathing prior to entry, or it may change over time, CSB says the atmosphere in the entire confined space should be tested and confirmed safe before workers enter the space and should be monitored continuously while workers are in the space.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146(d)(5)(ii) and (iii) explain: "Test or monitor the permit space as necessary to determine if acceptable entry conditions are being maintained during the course of operations and [w]hen testing for atmospheric hazards, test first for oxygen, then for combustible gases and vapors and then for toxic gases and vapors."

OSHA 1910.146(d)(6) also requires employers to have an attendant outside the permit-required confined space at all times while a worker is inside. The attendant's job is to use instruments to monitor the conditions within the space, to remain in contact with the entrant in case of emergency (and to alert rescuers, if necessary, or perform a non-entry rescue) and to know the hazards of the space and the signs or symptoms of exposure to the space's hazards, among other duties. The attendant should never enter the confined space unless the attendant is part of a rescue team and has been relieved by another attendant.

Ensure Ventilation with Fresh Air

Any time workers are entering a confined space or a small or enclosed area without wearing a supplied-air breathing apparatus, it is critical to provide continuous ventilation with forced-draft fresh air, CSB says. While fresh-air ventilation is not an option when workers are entering a pure nitrogen environment such as when workers are changing a catalyst in a reactor (nitrogen, in such a case, likely would be used to protect the catalyst from being damaged or contaminated by oxygen or moisture) it is particularly applicable when an area recently has been purged with nitrogen or carbon dioxide or some other gas and the area has been brought to the minimum safe breathing level of 19 1/2 percent oxygen.

Ventilation also is needed in rooms and chambers near confined spaces.

CSB, in its 2003 safety bulletin, notes a few of the nitrogen asphyxiation cases between 1992 and 2002 involved people who were not working in the nitrogen-enriched space, room or enclosure but were working close by.

"One aspect of our investigation in the Valero case is the possibility that nitrogen escaping from the open manway may have created a hazardous atmosphere just outside of the confined space," Vorderbrueggen explains. "The first victim may have been overcome while working outside the confine space, above the opening."

Implement a Rescue System

The issue of rescue presents a particularly vexing problem when it comes to workers in nitrogen-enriched confined spaces. Because nitrogen as well as other odorless, colorless gasses is a silent killer, a worker who sees his co-worker lying on the floor of a nitrogen-enriched confined space might think the co-worker was the victim of a fall, a heart attack or some event unrelated to nitrogen asphyxiation. When human instinct kicks in and the worker attempts to save his fallen co-worker, the rescuer often becomes the second victim.

Indeed, Vorderbrueggen points out fatalities in confined spaces "often come in multiples."

The answer, according to CSB, is training, training, training. In addition to training workers on proper rescue procedures, employers need to hammer into workers the awareness that, in the words of Hoyle, "just a few breaths can render them unconscious and unable to safely exit the confined space."

A rescue plan might involve attaching a body harness and lifeline to workers entering confined spaces (although this might not work in narrow-diameter spaces such as furnaces or ducts) or attaching wristlets or anklets to a lifeline and retrieval mechanism to allow the confined space attendant to pull the person out by the arms or legs, according to the CSB bulletin.

Whatever the method of rescue, the hallmarks of good rescue programs include effective means of communicating with personnel inside confined spaces and having the attendant and rescue personnel available at all times, according to the CSB bulletin. And, of course, no one ever should enter a hazardous atmosphere without proper PPE, even to aid a fallen colleague.

According to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146, employers have the option to provide rescue with in-house personnel or by calling an outside emergency service, but either way the onus is on the employer to make sure the worker is rescued "before any long-term harm comes to that person," OSHA's Kapust explains.

If an outside emergency service is used, employers need to evaluate whether the service has the personnel and resources to respond to the types of confined space hazards at their facility, would be available to respond to a confined space emergency and can get there in a timely manner.

"It wouldn't be adequate, if you had workers going into a nitrogen-enriched atmosphere, to say: 'We're just going to call 9-1-1 if someone goes down,'" Kapust says.

Integrity of Breathing Air

In situations when workers must enter a confined space with an oxygen concentration of less than 19 1/2 percent (or a confined space where the oxygen level might dip below that level), workers must be supplied with breathing air, either through a self-contained breathing apparatus or an airline respirator.

Employers need to have a system in place to protect against any interruption of airflow (such as from a power failure). The system should include an alternate source of power for the air compressors continuous monitoring of air supply routine inspection and replacement of supplied-air hoses and restriction of vehicular traffic in the area of supply hoses (vehicles can inadvertently cause a supply hose to become twisted or obstructed).

Prevent Mix-Ups of Nitrogen and Breathing Air

To prevent interchanging compressed nitrogen with compressed industrial-grade air or compressed breathing-quality air, CSB recommends that cylinders for nitrogen, industrial-grade air and breathing-quality air have distinct, incompatible fittings that cannot be cross-connected. Cylinders should be clearly labeled placing labels on piping systems, compressors and fittings provides additional reminders of which gas is contained inside, according to CSB.

Training is the glue that is necessary to bring these good practices together and make them part of an effective nitrogen-enriched confined space safety program. According to CSB, workers should be trained on the use of ventilation systems, retrieval systems and atmospheric monitoring systems hazard communication mandatory safety practices for entry into confined spaces (such as providing ventilation and an attendant) precautions when working around equipment that may contain elevated levels of nitrogen the reason for special fittings on compressed gas cylinders proper use of air supply equipment and the hazards of nitrogen-enriched atmospheres.

It is on this last point continuously communicating the seriousness of the hazards associated with nitrogen-enriched environments that employers sometimes fall short.

"The challenge is to get workers to recognize that there are no warning associated with it," Vorderbrueggen says. "That's probably where some employers are coming up short. They don't emphasize how risky oxygen-depleted environments can be and how quickly you are taken down.

"There's no fear factor thrown into training for nitrogen awareness."

Such a fear factor might help employers and employees follow the advice of Garvin Branch, an OSHA occupational safety and health specialist in construction: "You treat all confined spaces as if they do have hazardous atmospheres until you've done testing to prove that they don't."

Regaining Control

Reducing the amount of reactive nitrogen that is added to the environment is critical, Galloway says. Of the nitrogen that is created to sustain food production, only about 2�% enters the human mouth, depending on the region. The rest, he says, is lost to the environment: “Unless an equivalent amount is denitrified back to molecular N2, then that means reactive nitrogen is accumulating in the environment, in the atmosphere, in the groundwater, in the soils, in the biota.”

Some solutions are at best long-term, or simply unlikely. If many of the world’s meat-eaters were to switch to a largely vegetarian diet, Townsend says, farmers could plant far less nitrogen-stoked grain, most of which goes to animal feed and sweeteners. But meat consumption in the United States and Asia is rising rather than falling. It has also been suggested that symbiotic bacteria could someday be genetically engineered to bestow grains directly with nitrogen-fixing capability.

A more practical, low-tech, low-cost solution is to improve the ways farmers rotate crops and fertilize their lands, says Stanford University Earth science professor Pamela Matson. In the American Midwest, for example, it’s common for farmers to fertilize their fields in the fall. Winter snow and spring thaw wash away far more fertilizer than stays in the soil. Many farmers in all regions that have especially unpredictable weather intentionally overfertilize, she says, rather than run the risk of running short of nutrients in a year in which conditions would otherwise result in a bumper crop. The alternative, which Matson says some farmers manage well, is to add exactly the right amount of fertilizer exactly when it is needed.

In an effort to better understand the problems associated with changes in the nitrogen cycle and reduce their negative impacts, the Swedish-based International Geosphere𠄻iosphere Programme and the French-based Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment have teamed up to support the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI). This international project is planned as a three-phase effort to assess the state of the knowledge of nitrogen flows and problems, develop region-specific strategies, and put those strategies into place, with regional centers to be established to carry out these goals. The INI will cosponsor the Third International Nitrogen Conference, scheduled for 12� October 2004 in Nanjing, China. There, scientists will focus on the problems specific to Asia and examine options for increasing food and energy production while reducing nitrogen pollution. During this meeting, the INI Scientific Advisory Committee will meet to plan one or more regional centers for Asia.

Ultimately, however, the answer is to regulate reactive nitrogen the same as other pollutants, Likens says. In Europe, regulations have helped reduce nitrogen pollution, Galloway says. But the United States—not to mention developing nations—has a long way to go, not just in developing regulations, but in understanding the dynamics of the nitrogen cycle, Galloway says.

He cites the example of federal regulations to reduce nitrogen losses from hog farms. 𠇊 lagoon system was mandated to decrease reactive nitrogen𠄼ontaining waste release into waters. The waste was stored in these big lagoons and then aerated—which released ammonia to the atmosphere𠅊nd the sludge was spread onto fields to grow cover crops,” he explains. The system works insofar as it keeps the nitrogen out of the rivers fairly well. 𠇋ut it just transfers [the nitrogen] to the atmosphere,” Galloway says. “You need to have an integrated management policy.”

We know the global nitrogen system is being disrupted, Galloway says. “What we don’t know is the rate that nitrogen is accumulating. And because reactive nitrogen contributes to many environmental issues of the day, the more you have, the faster the rate of accumulation, and the more you’re going to have an increase in the effects and distribution of the effects.”

“Humans are changing the nitrogen cycle globally faster than any other major biogeochemical cycle—it’s just going through the roof in a hurry,” Townsend says. “The problems with that are remarkably diverse and widespread, and we really need to do something about it. But I think the good news is that there are a lot of ways to envision that we could do something about it without utterly turning socioeconomic systems on their ear.”

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