‘It’s an honor to be part of it.’ Local dry ice workers prepare for vaccine’s historic ‘chilling challenge’

VIDEO: Local dry ice workers prepare for vaccine's historic 'chilling challenge'

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Until now, the people in Western Washington who manufacture, process and distribute dry ice enjoyed a steady but relatively quiet business.

But very soon, the promise of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine, which must be kept at 94 degrees below zero, presents a technical challenge only dry ice can solve. Millions of lives and a hobbled economy will depend on the heavy lifting from the men and women who process solid carbon dioxide--the only natural product able to keep the vaccine stable during delivery.

Reliant Dry Ice manager Caleb Stone told KIRO-7 he has been around the business “My whole life, getting in the truck, making dry ice deliveries with my dad,” he said.

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But Stone never imagined the sudden critical role dry ice will play in helping millions of people waiting to safely resume their normal lives.

“Delivering to hospitals and delivering to medical clinics and stuff like that is something that we’re used to,” he said, pointing out the great unknown--how much dry ice will vaccine delivery require, and for how long.

There’s no way to produce and stockpile vast amounts of dry ice early to plan ahead. It is 109 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in a solid state, but it’s constantly “sublimating” (fogging) itself back into its natural state as a gas. Stone said 10 pounds of dry ice can literally disappear within 24 to 36 hours, depending on how you store and handle it. That’s why it will take a lot of fresh dry ice to replenish supplies in coolers, and keep the vaccines stable during transport and storage.

Being called upon to supply a product which could quickly play a starring role in saving the world is something Stone never saw coming.

“It’s an honor to be a part of it, and we’re just taking one step at a time,” he said. “There’s still a lot of unknowns, but my phone has been ringing off the hook, I’ve seen a lot of emails, a lot more than usual.”

The demand on this industry to save our state and our country will be historic, and Stone says his small crew at Reliant is ready.

“I guess our new place in all of this is to aid in protecting people. We’re just hard working guys who want to do our part to help.

We want to be that spoke in that wheel that helps protect lives.”

Stone says it may take hiring more workers to keep up, but they won’t know every detail about the staggering need, until the vaccines--and operation Warp Speed--are put into action.