Zinke Contributes to Dry Ice Research Team
Vol.8 Issue 6
A cross-agency team of researchers contributed their skills to determine the best methods for dry ice shipment while donning personal protective equipment.
Dry ice is solid, frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) which is pressed into dry blocks or pellets, and must remain cold or frozen during transport.

There are different ways that people are working to help fight the global health crisis; understanding the use of dry ice is just another resource. Members from across the FAA, including Stacey Zinke, Manager in the Human Protection & Survival Research Lab in the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute is one of the members of this instrumental, 5-person team. The Dry Ice Research Team was formed to ensure the safety of pilots and cargo handlers from exposure to carbon dioxide as a result of using dry ice.

Pfizer vaccines required the use of dry ice for transport when helping to combat COVID-19. Having a large volume of melting carbon dioxide was a potential health risk to pilots and cargo handlers. Since time was a major factor, the team developed fact sheets and provided training sessions for pilots and air carriers - those responsible for distributing COVID-19 vaccines until official guidance could be completed and released.

Dry ice is one of those substances that can be hazardous when in an enclosed space that is not well ventilated. When dry ice melts, it changes directly from a solid to carbon dioxide gas. Increased levels of carbon dioxide cause drowsiness and, at higher concentrations, can produce other undesirable conditions resulting in irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias).

The Dry Ice Research Team explored aircraft ventilation, the pellet size of dry ice, container durability, packaging properties, altitude impact of sublimation and vaccine capacity.

Congratulations to the Dry Ice Research Team for their masterful efforts in learning how to safely use dry ice when transporting crucial COVID-19 vaccines.

The team validated that specialty packaging used for the COVID-19 vaccines would permit significantly higher quantities of dry ice on board an aircraft. The panelists reviewed testing, which was conducted at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, using sample vaccine packaging containing dry ice to better understand potential changes in sublimation rates in the air carrier operational environment. The testing also investigated whether the size of the dry ice pellets could impact the sublimation rate.

As testing and research was conducted, the research team explained that it was evident that the planned, written guidance would not be published in time for the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, they determined that the most effective way to ensure operational safety would be to create fact sheets and provide training sessions for all pilots and air carriers responsible for distributing COVID-19 vaccines, until official guidance could be completed and released.

The first trial shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine was from Brussels to Chicago. Fact sheets were dispersed to both flight and ground crew. Carbon dioxide monitoring took place in-flight and when offloading. This was the first of several successful air shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the contributions of the Dry Ice Research Team.

Additionally, the team was recently recognized with an Aerospace Save Award for their outstanding contributions toward safety.

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