Nitrous oxide (N20) is a colorless gas stored as a liquid. Breathing nitrous oxide can cause dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death. Long-term exposure can lead to infertility. Contact with liquid nitrous oxide can cause severe frostbite. Workers may be harmed from exposure to nitrous oxide. The level of exposure depends on the dose, duration, and type of work being done.
Nitrous oxide is used in many industries. It can come from anesthetic equipment, surgical patients, and storage cylinders. Some examples of workers at risk of nitrous oxide exposure include the following:
- Medical personnel who work in surgical rooms in hospitals, surgery centers, or medical offices
- Dental workers where nitrous oxide gas is used as an anesthetic
- Recovery room personnel who are exposed to outgassing patients who emit fumes after surgery
- Workers in laboratories and facilities where compressed gas cylinders are moved and stored
- Service workers who clean and maintain surgical rooms before or after surgery
NIOSH recommends that employers use the Hierarchy of Controls to prevent worker exposures. If you work in an industry that uses nitrous oxide, read chemical labels and the accompanying Safety Data Sheet for hazard information. Visit NIOSH’s page on Managing Chemical Safety in the Workplace to learn more about controlling chemical workplace exposures.
The following resources provide information about occupational exposure to nitrous oxide. Useful search terms for nitrous oxide include “dinitrogen monoxide,” “hyponitrous acid anhydride,” and “laughing gas.”
The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (NPG) helps workers, employers, and occupational health professionals recognize and control workplace chemicals hazards.
The NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) is a collection of methods for sampling and analysis of contaminants in workplace air, and in the blood and urine of workers who are occupationally exposed.
The Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program conducts onsite investigations of possible worker exposure to chemicals. Search the HHE database for more information on nitrous oxide.
- NIOSHTIC-2 search results on nitrous oxide – NIOSHTIC-2 is a searchable database of worker safety and health publications, documents, grant reports, and journal articles supported in whole or in part by NIOSH.
- NIOSH: Managing Chemical Safety in the Workplace – The NIOSH Chemical directory provides a centralized resource for guided access to the Institute’s many significant research documents.
- NIOSH Report – Waste Anesthetic Gases – Occupational Hazards in Hospitals – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2007-151 (2007) – Hospital workers are exposed to volatile anesthetic gases that leak from anesthetic equipment. This report increases awareness and recommends work practices to reduce exposures.
- NIOSH (FACE) Fire Investigation Report – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. F2003-03 (2003) – Volunteer fire fighter dies following nitrous oxide cylinder explosion while fighting commercial structure fire in Texas.
- NIOSH Hazard Control – Control of Nitrous Oxide During Cryosurgery – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-105 (1999) – NIOSH studies have shown that N2O in the air in cryosurgical units can be effectively controlled by ventilation and equipment maintenance, and if this is not possible, through using a less hazardous cryogenic gas.
- NIOSH Hazard Control – Control of Nitrous Oxide in Dental Operatories – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-107 (1998) – Dental workers are exposed to nitrous oxide (N2O) when patients receive it as an anesthetic. Exposures should be minimized to prevent short-term behavioral and long-term reproductive health effects that can be produced by N2O.
- NIOSH Report – Control of Nitrous Oxide in Dental Operatories – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-129 (1994) – Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), conducted four in-depth field evaluations, and one laboratory study to evaluate three commercial dental operatory waste anesthetic gas scavenging systems for their effectiveness in reducing nitrous oxide exposure.
- NIOSH Alert – Controlling Exposures to Nitrous Oxide During Anesthetic Administration – DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-100 (1994) – This alert presents control measures for preventing or greatly reducing exposure to N2O during the administration of anesthetic gas. These control measures should be part of a comprehensive written safety and health plan for workers.
- NIOSH Update – NIOSH Warns: Nitrous Oxide Continues to Threaten Health Care Workers – DHHS (NIOSH) (1994) – NIOSH warns that even with preventive measures such as scavenging systems in place workers may be at risk for serious health effects due to their exposure to nitrous oxide.
- EPA Chemistry Dashboard: Nitrous OxideExternal
- OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Guideline: Waste Anesthesia GasesExternal
- OSHA Guidelines for Workplace Exposure: Anesthetic GasesExternal
- OSHA Chemical Sampling Information: Nitrous OxideExternal
- OSHA Hazard CommunicationExternal
- NLM Hazardous Substance Data Bank: Nitrous OxideExternal
- NLM Haz-Map: Nitrous OxideExternal
- New Jersey Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets: Nitrous OxideCdc-pdfExternal
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS): Nitrous OxideExternal
- European Chemicals Agency (ECHA): Nitrous OxideExternal
- Gestis Substance Database External
- IPCS PIM 381: Nitrous OxideExternal
- International Chemical Safety Cards: Nitrous OxideExternal
- OECD Global Portal to Information on Chemical SubstancesExternal