Woman Dies From Suffocation After Her Car Fills With Carbon Dioxide
WASHINGTON — August 1, 2018
One Washington woman is dead and another is in serious condition after a freak accident caused by dry ice in Seattle.
A man working as an ice cream salesman kept four coolers of dry ice in the back of his car, according to police. His wife had borrowed the car to take his mother home on Friday night.
“He had four coolers full of dry ice because he delivered Dippin’ Dots to various locations,” the county sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer told the Tribune. “He recently got a new car. The newer car probably had better sealing.”
According to the police, the man rose at 4 a.m. to go to work and realized his wife hadn’t returned. He found the car parked a few blocks away on the side of the road. The man’s wife and mother were prone inside and appeared unconscious.
The man then broke the rear driver’s side window, opened the car, pulled women out and called 911.
Emergency medical technicians from West Pierce Fire & Rescue arrived and transported the man and his wife to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.
Hildegard Whiting, 77, was pronounced dead of suffocation from carbon, according to Pierce County Medical Examiners. Her daughter-in-law now is in critical condition.
The cause of death was asphyxiation due to the displacement of oxygen by carbon dioxide, according to Pierce County Medical Examiners. It turned out, the vapors from the dry ice had leaked from the trucks coolers and flooded the car with carbon dioxide gas.
“At this point, we’re just looking at this as a horrific accident,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
Dry ice is usually used when transporting perishable goods, University of Washington's Environmental Health and Safety department notes. It is a solid form of carbon dioxide that can displace oxygen.
“This releases potentially substantial volumes of CO2, which can displace oxygen quickly in the air around the dry ice, causing difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and death.”
Experts advise that the substance should not be stored in closed containers or spaces.
Deaths linked to dry ice are usually rare. In 2016, a woman was told that her brother, who owned a delivery business, died from dry ice exposure after an unexplained coma.
“When I went in to say goodbye to him, I promised him I would make sure this didn’t happen to anybody else,” she said. “My obligation to my brother is to make sure people know about this. He died because he didn’t know.”
Another 20-year-old man hiding in a dry ice factory container to avoid a confrontation, died from carbon dioxide intoxication, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
An assistant medical examiner from New York, Edward Martens, wrote about the phenomenon in his 1940 book, “The Doctor Looks at Murder,” which, among other deaths, looked at those of five longshoremen found in a sunken boat carrying fruit kept cold with dry ice.
The National Institutes of Health maintains several scholarly articles that have examined such deaths. The common factor in these cases is that the people who died were in an enclosed space with no air flow.