Breweries & Distilleries

Thousands of breweries and distilleries are currently operating in the United States, with numbers growing rapidly year after year. Safety precautions, including the monitoring of hazardous gases, are crucial to these operations.

Gases Found in Breweries & Distilleries

Among the many steps involved in the process of crafting beer and spirits, there’s one reserved for the fermentation of sugar by yeast, which produces ethanol and carbon dioxide when heated, fermented, matured, and decanted.

More specifically:

  1. Yeast breaks down the sugars to form pyruvate molecules (also referred to as glycolysis).
  2. Glycolysis of glucose molecules creates two molecules of pyruvic acid.
  3. These two molecules of pyruvic acid are reduced to two molecules of 2CO2 and ethanol.

An organic chemical compound, ethanol is a volatile and highly flammable colorless liquid. Ethanol was discovered to be a byproduct of alcohol fermentation centuries ago, and has since found uses in numerous applications ranging from cosmetics to household cleaning products.

However, ethanol’s usefulness doesn’t change the fact that it can be quite dangerous.

Consisting of one part carbon and two parts oxygen, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless gas. While CO2 is harmless in small amounts, and is in fact present in small quantities in the air we breathe, it becomes dangerous in larger quantities.

Ammonia may also be present in distilleries and breweries due to leaks in ammonia refrigeration systems, which are used for processing and bottling. Ammonia is a colorless gas that has an intense, irritating odor, and can cause various health concerns if inhaled.


Combustion-Related Risks

One of the dangers of ethanol production in breweries and distilleries is combustion. Breweries and distilleries are often home to all the necessary ingredients for an explosion:

  • Ethanol released into the air in the form of vapor through leaks in casks, tanks, or equipment such as hoses, pipes, and pumps
  • Flammable dust created during the handling, storage, and milling of barley and wheat
  • Large quantities of fuel — usually natural gas — required for grain roasting and drying

While ammonia is not considered flammable, an energy source that’s large and intense enough could potentially cause an explosion.

To prevent explosions, breweries and distilleries can take several precautions:

  • Removing or preparing for ignition sources in the area, such as:
    • Hot surfaces
    • Hot gases and flames
    • Malfunctioning or inappropriate electrical equipment
    • Static electricity
    • Mechanically generated sparks
    • Stray currents
    • Thermal decomposition, such as dust self-ignition
    • Lightning
  • Venting, suppressing, and containing dust from grain handling
  • Monitoring ethanol levels via gas sensors

Inhalation-Related Risks

Consuming ethanol through alcoholic beverages is not dangerous, but consuming this toxic chemical straight by inhaling ethanol vapors can lead to coma or even death. Studies currently in progress also suggest that ethanol may be a carcinogen.

Breathing in high levels of carbon dioxide is also dangerous, as CO2 can actually displace the oxygen available in the air to breathe. Symptoms such as rapid breathing, clumsiness, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and emotional upsets may result, worsening to nausea, vomiting, collapse, convulsions, coma, and even death as CO2 levels increase.

Likewise, ammonia is a severe respiratory tract irritant, with inhalation effects ranging from nose and throat irritation to pulmonary edema (a type of lung injury) and death.

If anyone working in a distillery or brewery is exposed to these gases, they should immediately move outdoors or to a well-ventilated area to get fresh air. Contact emergency medical services for support.

To prevent ethanol, CO2, and ammonia inhalation in the first place, use gas detectors to closely monitor gas levels. Gas monitoring is not only necessary for safety but also required by law, as OSHA Standard Number 1910.1000 mandates the monitoring of all toxic and combustible fumes.

Check out our gas detectors for distilleries and breweries to get started.


Featured image via Pixabay