UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- A Washington state man’s wife is in critical condition and his mother is dead after a rare, but lethal accident with dry ice.
The 51-year-old University Place man called police after finding his 51-year-old wife and his 77-year-old mother unconscious in their car around 4 a.m. Friday.
The man runs an ice cream delivery business that uses dry ice. He stored several coolers of it in the back seat of the car.
Pierce County Medical Examiners say the 77-year-old woman likely died from asphyxiation due to the dry ice.
"When the two ladies got in the car, between the heat outside and the dry ice in the car, something failed and some of the fumes got into the car, rendering them both unconscious," said Pierce County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Ed Troyer.
The sheriff’s office explained the incident as an extremely rare and tragic accident.
“It’s something I never knew could happen. We’ve all been around dry ice, but in enough quantities and a sealed condition it can be toxic and lethal, as now we know, unfortunately," Troyer said.
Dry ice is a solid form of carbon dioxide that transforms to gas when exposed to open air. According to the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, the effects can be lethal when confined to non-ventilated spaces, as dry ice will lower the percentage of oxygen in the air.
"You feel sleepy, dizzy, but you don't have the intention to open up the air," Dr. Kris Permentier, head of the emergency department at Belgian hospital az Sint-Blasius, told CNN. "You don't have the strength [or] the brain capacity to open up the doors or the windows."