While MRI scanners are one of the most important devices in the medical industry today, they do come with serious hazards that need to be kept in check. Helium, although typically thought of as a fun, harmless gas, can be very deadly in concentrated amounts. MRI machines use liquid helium to cool down magnets surrounding the patient’s body. A helium leak would displace the oxygen in a room, and since it’s colorless and odorless, people inside could become victims without even knowing what hit them. Medical professionals should only be worrying about their patients, not the equipment hazards of machines they’re working with, which is why there should always be a portable gas leak detector nearby.
Dangers of Liquid Helium
The magnets inside an MRI scanner don’t just heat up, they become superheated. In fact, they get so hot that only something which can reach –450o F can keep the temperature balanced. Helium is that one substance, since it has the lowest condensation temperature among all other known substances. Liquid helium is what makes the MRI process possible, but it introduces its own hazards. By itself, the gas is harmless to the human body. The danger comes when it interacts with oxygen in a confined area. A helium leak inside a closed space, such as an MRI room, can displace the oxygen and suffocate those inside. This first leads to dizziness, loss of consciousness, and eventually death. To prevent this from happening, most MRI rooms are equipped with O2 censors which will alert those inside at the first sign of oxygen displacement. However, these devices don’t tell you where the leak is, which will not only lead to loss of helium but render the room useless until the leak has been cleared out, and the MRI scanner refilled.
Detecting Leaks Ahead of Time
Luckily, portable devices that can detect the slightest hint of helium are now on the market. In fact, some of these devices are so sophisticated that you can use them while the MRI scanner is still operational. An advanced portable gas leak detector is equipped with a micro thermal conductivity senor, which gives it the capability of detecting helium leaks down to ultra-low levels. Since it can detect any leaks while the MRI scanner is still operational, a medical professional can periodically check for leaks without interrupting the procedure. Aside from preventing major leaks that require an immediate evacuation, this is an effective way of keeping maintenance costs down as well.