Indoor Air Quality Issues At Craft Breweries

Craft Breweries Are Particularly Vulnerable To CO2 Poisoning.

Craft Breweries Are Particularly Vulnerable To CO2 Poisoning.

In the last 20 years, craft brews have amassed a following that would have been unimaginable back when our Founding Fathers briefly entertained the idea to create a federal brewery to curb the growing popularity of spirits with the American public. Though the idea was eventually dismissed, malt beverages remained a favorite among the signers of the Declaration Of Independence. So much so, that when Thomas Jefferson retired from public service, he engaged in the art of beer making full-time. President Jefferson and his wife used hops and malts grown near their Monticello estate and developed their first bottled homebrew in 1812.

A lot has changed since then. Craft brewing is no longer a hobby only for gentlemen in the political elite. It has grown into a wildly popular global enterprise.

Other than the distinction that craft brewers include brewpubs, regional craft breweries, and microbreweries, what, exactly, is a “craft brew”? The American Beer Association (1) defines it thus:

An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional.

Small in that its annual production is 6 million barrels or less. Independent if less than 25 percent of the business is owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. And, traditional if the beer is derived from conventional or innovative brewing ingredients.

To get some perspective on the meteoric rise of craft breweries in America, consider the following statistics: In 1994 there were just over 500 microbrewers (the term of trade 25 years ago). Today there are over 5000. Craft brewers are so ubiquitous that the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of one.

So it is no surprise that with such rapid growth and the need to meet consumer demand, some craft brewers have been found unprepared for the dangers that poor indoor air quality can create. Even large non-craft breweries, with their sophisticated worker protection systems and safety protocols, can fall victim to the perils of poor IAQ. Take, for example, an incident at Anheuser-Busch five years ago. OSHA cited the brewing giant for failing to protect workers from CO2 poisoning as they worked in brewery cellars. (2) And the following year seven plant workers died at a Corona Brewery production facility in Mexico after entering a fermentation tank for routine maintenance. The Corona Brewery deaths were considered a result of noxious inhalation from toxins that included carbon dioxide. (3)

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a naturally occurring chemical compound (containing 2 oxygen atoms and one carbon atom). Carbon dioxide is a common and ever-present natural gas. It is colorless, odorless and is an important part of Earth’s carbon cycle. All humans and animals carry CO2 in their blood and exhale it when they breathe.

In the brewing business, carbon dioxide is used to carbonated beverages. It is also an organic result of the fermentation process. But if one is exposed to too much CO2, a wide range of hazardous side effects – like the central nervous system and respiratory damage – can occur. And when carbon dioxide levels are dangerously high, fatalities can follow. (4)

man standing at a brewing machine

In any brewery, CO2 might accumulate – as a result of a leak or poor IAQ – in confined areas like fermentation tanks or walk-in coolers. And because elevated levels of CO2 are undetectable to unsuspecting workers, (5) toxic poisoning can strike instantaneously – with no indication to the victim. (6) In most cases, dizziness, headache, and increased heart rate will occur. But at that point, a person may be too confused to recognize the symptoms or too ill to respond. Asphyxiation, unconsciousness, and death could follow. (7)

Though fatalities from carbon dioxide poisoning are rare in big, established breweries, they do happen, as the aforementioned examples prove. The craft brewer, absent the same large-scale engineering and safety procedures the large manufacturers have in place, may not as easily apply comparable measures. It is for this reason that small breweries need to be proactive in implementing stringent safety measures to ensure that carbon dioxide is contained at all times.

At Air Systems Inc, we protect our customers in the craft brewing industry with our stellar products. For the safety and peace of mind of you and your workforce, contact us today for a free indoor air quality assessment from one of our skilled and experienced environmental specialists.

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