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Liquid nitrogen cocktails: the dangers

15th October 2012

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We've all heard the story by now: Gaby Scanlon, an A-level student from Heysham in Lancashire, was celebrating her 18th birthday when she was offered two ‘Nitro Jagermeister’ cocktails, which she drank quickly. Shortly afterwards, she began to feel breathless.

After being rushed to Lancaster Royal Infirmary, she was diagnosed with a perforated stomach. The only way to save her was a total gastrectomy - complete removal of her stomach.

Although Gaby will need to remain in hospital for some time, she is apparently ‘doing well’ - although she will need vitamin supplements for the rest of her life.

The ‘Nitro Jagermeister’ cocktails Gaby drank are thought to have contained a few drops of liquid nitrogen, a chemical which is gaining increasing popularity in the drinks industry.

But what are the dangers of 'nitro cocktails', and what should you look out for?

Nitrogen makes up around 80% of the air we breathe, and in its normal state is completely inert. However, once the gas is cooled past -198°C, it becomes a liquid with some very interesting properties.

TV chef Heston Blumenthal wowed guests at his televised ‘secret feasts’ by using liquid nitrogen to produce a mysterious mist. It can also be used to make ice cream, as its incredibly low temperature causes liquids around it to freeze rapidly.

Luxury cocktails can include liquid nitrogen in their preparation to produce exciting effects such as a frosted glass. However, when Gaby Scanlon consumed her drinks, there was still some liquid nitrogen remaining in the glass.

If consumed, liquid nitrogen can cause horrendous cold burns to the mouth, throat and stomach as it rapidly cools the living cells. These cells, which are filled with water, freeze and burst, killing the tissue.

Even more dangerous, however, is the point at which the liquid nitrogen vaporises. When liquid nitrogen becomes a gas, it expands up to around seven hundred times its original volume. So, liquid nitrogen droplets inside Gaby Scanlon’s stomach became enormous gas bubbles, which burst her stomach from the inside.

Her punctured stomach, also severely burnt, was removed entirely. A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: "Medical opinion is that this would have proved fatal had the operation not been carried out urgently."

Dr John Ashton, director of public health for Cumbria, said: "This girl is the victim of an irresponsible alcohol industry that's now competing on gimmicks.

"It is shocking that a teenage girl goes out to celebrate her 18th birthday and ends up in intensive care with life-changing injuries.

"The alcohol industry uses these types of gimmicks to make alcoholic drinks more enticing - yet staff can use liquid nitrogen without any proper training.

"People should not be playing chemistry in public houses. This is a very, very cold substance and it is similar to subjecting your oesophagus and stomach to frost bite."

Oscar’s wine bar, where Miss Scanlon was taken ill, has stopped selling its liquid nitrogen cocktails.

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