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Xenon – Gas Hazards & Applications

561px-Xenon-tetrafluoride-3D-vdWWhat is Xenon?

Pronounced “ZEE-non,” Xenon is a noble gas and is odorless, colorless, tasteless and chemically non-reactive. While not toxic on its own, its compounds are strong oxidizing agents that are highly toxic.

Many compounds of xenon are created principally with fluorine or oxygen. Both oxides, xenon trioxide (XeO3) and xenon tetroxide (XeO4) are highly explosive. Some toxic compounds created with fluorine include difluoride, xenon deuterate, sodium perxenate, xenon hydrate, tetrafluoride and hexafluoride.

Where is it found?

Xenon is a trace gas found in the Earth’s atmosphere to the extent of about one part in 20 million. This makes it very rare. Interestingly, it is also found in Mars’ atmosphere at 0.08 ppm.

Xenon is obtained commercially as a by-product of the separation of air into oxygen and nitrogen. After this separation, generally performed by fractional distillation, the liquid oxygen produced will contain small quantities of krypton and xenon. Finally, the krypton/xenon mixture may be separated into krypton and xenon by further distillation.


What is it used for?

Xenon is primarily used in light manufacturing. Xenon creates a blue or lavender glow when subjected to an electrical discharge. Lamps that use xenon illuminate better than conventional lights. For example, stroboscopic lamps, photographic flash lamps, high-intensive arc-lamps for motion picture projection, some lamps used for deep-sea observation, bactericidal lamps, sunbed lamps and high-pressure arc all use this gas. In fact, you probably see xenon lamps on a regular basis. Some vehicle headlights use xenon. If you see headlights that give off a soft blue glow, they are probably made with xenon.

Xenon is used in medicine as a general anesthetic and in medical imaging.

It is used in nuclear energy plants and for filling television and radio tubes. Silicon microprocessors are etched with xenon difluoride. Xenon ion propulsion systems keep some satellites and other spacecraft in orbit.


Xenon Hazards

Inhalation: This gas is inert and is classified as a simple asphyxiate. Inhalation in excessive concentrations can result in dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death. Death may result from errors in judgment, confusion, or loss of consciousness which prevent self-rescue. At low oxygen concentrations, unconsciousness and death may occur in seconds without warning.

The effect of simple asphyxiate gases is proportional to the extent to which they diminish the amount of oxygen in the air that is breathed. The oxygen may be diminished to 75% of its normal percentage in air before appreciable symptoms develop. This in turn requires the presence of a simple asphyxiate in a concentration of 33% in the mixture of air and gas. When the simple asphyxiate reaches a concentration of 50%, marked symptoms can be produced. A concentration of 75% is fatal in a matter of minutes.

The first symptoms produced by a simple asphyxiate are rapid respiration and air hunger. Mental alertness is diminished and muscular coordination is impaired. Later judgment becomes faulty and all sensations are depressed. Emotional instability often results and fatigue occurs rapidly. As the asphyxia progresses, there may be nausea and vomiting, prostration and loss of consciousness, and finally convulsions, deep coma and death.

Xenon compounds are strongly oxidative, because of this many oxygen-xenon compounds are toxic. They are also explosive (highly exothermic), breaking down to elemental xenon and diatomic oxygen with much stronger chemical bonds than the xenon compounds.

Xenon gas can be safely kept in sealed glass or metal containers at standard temperature and pressure. However, it readily dissolves in most plastics and rubber, and will gradually escape from a container sealed with such materials.

Obviously, Xenon does not satisfy the body’s need for oxygen, and is an anesthetic more powerful than nitrous oxide.



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