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Q: suffocation, lung capacity, human oxygen useage ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: suffocation, lung capacity, human oxygen useage
Category: Science
Asked by: jrudland-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 19 Sep 2003 04:50 PDT
Expires: 19 Oct 2003 04:50 PDT
Question ID: 258239
how long does it take to suffocate in an air tight room? i.e if I had
a 10 x 10 x 2 Meter room, how long would it take an average male to
Subject: Re: suffocation, lung capacity, human oxygen useage
Answered By: knowledge_seeker-ga on 19 Sep 2003 06:32 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi jrudland-ga, 

The issue of suffocating in an enclosed space is not one of running
out of oxygen; it's one of being poisoned by carbon dioxide -- CO2. 
CO2 becomes toxic at a concentration of 1%. (Normal atmospheric
concentration is 0.036 percent (360 ppmv).) A concentration of 10% can
cause respiratory paralysis and death within a few minutes.

How fast the CO2 level builds depends on how fast you produce it. This
would be related to how fast you are breathing. At rest you would
exhale much less than if you were exercising.

Given that a moderately active or stressed person produces about 1.7
cubic feet of CO2 per hour and assuming a concentration of 3% CO2 is
the highest safe limit, here is an equation you can use to calculate
how long a given number of people can stay in a given space before
toxic levels of CO2 build up ---

T = Number of hours of air in a sealed room 

  (Volume of air inside the room in cubic feet) x (3% or 0.03)
T = --------------------------------------------------------- 
  (Number of people) x (one person's hourly production of CO2) 

Scroll down this page for explanation of that equation

FOR YOUR SAFETY - Sealed Room Atmosphere

So….using the Google calculator – 

Your room of 10x10x2 meters would be –

200 (cubic meters) = 7 062.93334 cubic feet.

Let's call that 7000 cubic feet.

T = (7000 x .03) / (1 x 1.7) =  210/1.7 = 123.5 hours. 


From a Science Fiction author ---

"As it turns out, a 10 X 10 X 10 foot space, or 1,000 cubic feet, will
be filled with a lethal concentration of CO2 by one resting human
sized individual in just 24 hours. (The CO2 level reaches about 1% in
that time). Moderate activity will cut this time to 12 hours, and
strenuous activity to 6 hours."

Suffocation, CO2 poisoning

Let's check that with our equation ----

(1000 x .01) / 1.7 =  17 hours.  Close. 


This website addresses oxygen depletion, but ignores CO2
concentrations, which makes their answer to the question, "How long
can we survive in an enclosed space?" entirely wrong.

I include it because I suppose these equations would be useful if you
were using up air in the room, but exhaling out through a tube or if
you employed air scrubbers to remove the CO2.

Question: How long can 10 healthy adult people survive in a sealed
room of dimensions 3m x 4m x 2.5m before they run out of oxygen (i.e.
the oxygen concentration drops to 12%)? An adult of average weight
consumes about 3.33 10-6 m3 s-1 of oxygen while at rest. The typical
volume of an adult is 0.1 m3.

Answer: The equation for rate of change of oxygen concentration in an
enclosure without oxygen replacement (neglecting the buildup of carbon
dioxide) is:

(total oxygen consumption rate) = (volume of oxygen consumed) / (total
time lapsed)

or   :    nC = {Vr - nVp}{Li - Lf}/t

[see explanations here]

How long can we survive in a sealed enclosure?

A hypothetical question to a Biosphere scientist --

"[an adult] would need about 350 litres of oxygen per day (the amount
of oxygen in 1.7 cubic metres of air)."



Safety Information for Cavers (Spelunkers) – this is a good table that
shows the stages of Co2 poisoning at different concentrations [scroll

Table 2. Generally accepted physiological effects of CO2 at various
concentrations by volume


So, that should answer your question, and then some. I hope you find
the additional information useful as well.

Thanks for an interesting question!

jrudland-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks for a quick and complete answer. I has answered the question I
should have asked perfectly - top marks in my book!!!

Subject: Re: suffocation, lung capacity, human oxygen useage
From: stevenpace-ga on 12 Oct 2003 04:54 PDT
The old home remedy for CO2 was lime.  More efficient CO2 scrubbers
have followed, but depending on the situation, natural CO2 removal
might occur.  It is important to remember, for example, that oxygen
does not disolved very well in water, but C02 does, especially cold
water.  And as long as the PH of the water stays high, the water will
keep absorbing the CO2 forever.  That is why lime was used.  The
earths oceans are currently absorbing a bit of extra C02, for example.

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