Do home oxygen tanks really explode?

One of our fellow podcasters sent in a question for us to answer. Her name is Terel Jackson and she is the host of the “Health Science (for the Rest of Us!)” podcast. You can visit their website http://www.healthscienceforeveryone.com and follow her on social media.

Let’s take a listen to her question:

First, let me thank Terel for sending in a great question. She sent us a question before and we love to hear from her.

Do home oxygen tanks really explode?

I tried to find specific statistics from our medical journals about how many oxygen tanks explode each year. All I could find were case reports. That means there are 1 or 2 cases that are unique enough to report to the journals. However, that means there’s not that many oxygen tanks exploding in homes.

What I did find was that oxygen fires are extremely common for different reasons.

While the answer may be obvious, I wanted to be sure that I researched it properly so that I had accurate data. I looked at some of the statistics from the National Fire Protection Association.

In the United States, over 350,000 fires occur in homes each year. That is about 1000 house fires a day across the country. The #1 cause of house fires was cooking equipment. The #2 cause of house fires was smoking.

Regular air is about 20% oxygen. Oxygen tanks carry 100% oxygen. Oxygen causes fires to burn hotter and more rapidly. It does that for a couple of reasons.

If someone is using oxygen properly, it will flow into a mask or a nasal cannula which are the prongs they go into the nose.

However, if the mask moves or the nasal cannula leaks air out to the side of the face, then the entire room will fill up with oxygen.

In this situation, if you light a cigarette, a match, or sparks from a heater because that room has so much oxygen, it can ignite a fire.

Even after the oxygen tank is turned off, the oxygen will linger around the hair, skin, and even clothing. There are hundreds of ER visits every year from people who are on oxygen and they light up a cigarette as soon as they turn it off. This will cause a flash fire which can burn the eyebrows, lips, and face because that’s where most of the oxygen will pool.

Oxygen tanks are dangerous. They have to be supported in an upright position. If anything should strike the valve or cause it to tip over, the pressure that comes from the oxygen being released rapidly will create the equivalent of a rocket.

The oxygen moves in one direction and tank move in the opposite direction. That has been known to cause injuries and if you combine that with smoking or any type of a spark, it looks like an explosion even though the tank itself did not burst apart.

Oxygen tanks will not always explode, but they can do cause severe damage to people and property.

There are some unusual situations that can arise. Some people like to apply Vaseline, Vicks, or other lotions around the face because they get very dry from the oxygen that blows into the nose.

Anything that has oil or petroleum products is highly flammable. When you mix oxygen with those topical lotions, it can also start a flash fire. There have been many cases where people are burned even though they’re doing things that seem harmless and not even smoking.

There are cases where people were using an electric razor or a hairdryer and the oxygen was running. Those sparks can also cause a fire to develop rapidly.

Often in the winter months, people have layers of blankets or sweaters. Certain types of clothes, linen, and bedding can produce a large amount of static electricity. Often this happens with wool or synthetic fibers. The static spark, when combined with oxygen, can also cause a fire. Every single day there are news reports across the country of horrible apartment fires and house fires that occurred when people were asleep. Oxygen tanks have a high risk of causing these fires even if people are just wearing regular winter clothing.

I want to thank Terel Jackson for sending in another great question. Be sure to visit their website www.healthscienceforeveryone.com and listen to their recent episodes.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, just record it on your phone and connect with us on social media. Will make a whole episode about your question. You can visit our website at www.SimpleHealthRadio.com


References:

https://www.livestrong.com/article/205796-dangers-of-smoking-while-using-oxygen/

https://www.homecaremedical.com/services/training/oxygen-use-home-fire-safety-guidelines-storing-handling-oxygen-equipment/

https://www.massgeneral.org/News/newsarticle.aspx?id=2091

https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/Building-and-Life-Safety/Home-Structure-Fires

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If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately. Dr. Emran and Simple Health Radio do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, consults, or any other information that may be mentioned on this website or radio podcast.

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