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Carbon DioxideYou probably know carbon dioxide is a gas that is present in the air you breathe. Plants "breathe" it in order to make glucose. You exhale carbon dioxide gas as a by-product of respiration. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is one of the greenhouse gases. You find it added to soda, naturally occurring in beer, and in its solid form as dry ice. Based on what you know, do you think carbon dioxide is poisonous or is it non-toxic or somewhere in between?

The Answer

Ordinarily, carbon dioxide is not poisonous. It diffuses from your cells into your bloodstream and from there out via your lungs, yet it is always present throughout your body.

However, if you breathe high concentrations of carbon dioxide or re-breathe air (such as from a plastic bag or tent), you may be at risk for carbon dioxide intoxication or even carbon dioxide poisoning. Carbon dioxide intoxication and carbon dioxide poisoning are independent of oxygen concentration, so you may have enough oxygen present to support life, yet still suffer from the effects of rising carbon dioxide concentration in your blood and tissues. Symptoms of carbon dioxide toxicity include high blood pressure, flushed skin, headache and twitching muscles. At higher levels, you could experience panic, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, vomited and potentially unconsciousness or even death.

How to Prepare Carbon Dioxide Gas | What Is Dry Ice


January 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm
(1) Jetty says:

I disagree with the statement that CO2 is not poisonous.

Even if there is enough O2 in the air to sustain life, CO2 can kill you. Had CO2 only been an asphyxiant through oxygen deficiency, that would have been impossible. The reason for CO2 to be toxic is, that it is not O2 but CO2 that regulates breathing, through pH regulation in the blood.
For more info, see publication 24/11/E of EIGA, the European Industrial Gases Association: “Carbon Dioxide Physiological Hazards -“Not just an asphyxiant!” http://www.eiga.org/index.php?id=179

Ing. Jetty Middelkoop
Hazmat Officer
Fire Dept. Amsterdam Amstelland
The Netherlands

January 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm
(2) chemistry says:

Thank you for the reference. I’ll revise this post to reflect this information.

January 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm
(3) Isaac Davis says:

Nitrogen comprises some 78 percent of the atmosphere we breath, yet no a word about Nitrogen poisoning or some other irrelevancy surrounding this abundant elemental gas. Oxygen, at 21 percent of atmospheric gas is never mentioned, and the trace gases, of which Carbon Dioxide is part of, is within that narrow 1 percent of all the trace gases. The constant “whine” is about how much Carbon, and it is interchanged as if it were the same thing as Carbon Dioxide, that mankind is putting into the atmosphere, yet NO one will state the plain truth to the matter that the constant of that ONE PERCENT of the atmosphere below 25KM has always be just that–constant.

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