United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Evaluation of Exposure Limits to Toxic Gases for Nuclear Reactor Control Room Operations (NUREG/CR-5669, PNL-7522)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: December 1990
Date Published:
July 1991

Prepared by:
D.D. Mahlum, L.B. Sasser
Pacific Northwest Laboratory
P.O. Box 999
Richland, Washington 99352
Operated by Battelle Memorial Institute

Prepared for:
Division of Safety Issue Resolution
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001

NRC FIN B-2929

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We have evaluated ammonia, chlorine, Halon (actually a generic name for several halogenated hydrocarbons), and sulfur dioxide for their possible effects during an acute two-minute exposure in order to derive recommendations for maximum exposure levels. To perform this evaluation, we conducted a search to find the most pertinent literature regarding toxicity in humans and in experimental animals. Much of the literature is at least a decade old, not an unexpected finding since acute exposures are less often performed now than they were a few years ago. In most cases, the studies did not specifically examine the effects of two-minute exposures; thus, extrapolations had to be made from studies of longer-exposure periods. Whenever possible, we gave the greatest weight to human data, with experimental animal data serving to strengthen the conclusion arrived at from consideration of the human data. Although certain individuals show hypersensitivity to materials like sulfur dioxide, we have not attempted to factor this information into the recommendations.

After our evaluation of the data in the literature, we held a small workshop. Major participants in this workshop were three consultants, all of whom were Diplomates of the American Board of Toxicology, and staff from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Our preliminary recommendations for two-minute exposure limits and the rationale for them were discussed and consensus reached on final recommendations. These recommendations are: 1) ammonia-300 ppm; 2) chlorine-30 ppm; 3) Halon 1301-5%; Halon 1211-2%; and 4) sulfur dioxide-100 ppm. Control room operators should be able to tolerate two-minute exposures to these levels, don fresh-air masks, and continue to operate the reactor if the toxic material is eliminated, or safely shut down the reactor if the toxic gas remains.

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