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CO2 Inhalation from Dry Ice Leads to 4 Fatal Incidents in 5 Years

The Yomiuri Shimbun

There have been at least four incidents in the past five years in which people have reportedly died after inhaling the carbon dioxide from dry ice, it has been learned.

Dry ice is commonly used to prevent a body from decomposing, and in all four cases, the victim reportedly stayed close to a body as it was lying in a coffin.

Tokyo-based All Japan Funeral Directors Co-operation (Zensoren) is calling for proper ventilation during viewings.

According to Zensoren and the Consumer Affairs Agency, one incident occurred at a residence in Aomori Prefecture in 2018, one at a residence in Okinawa Prefecture in 2020, one at a funeral facility in Miyagi Prefecture in 2021 and another at a funeral facility in Miyazaki Prefecture the same year.

Those who died were relatives of the deceased in their 40s to 70s and were found leaning against or lying near the coffin. It is believed that they inhaled the CO2 as they approached the coffin to view the body.

Dry ice is carbon dioxide in a solid state. At a normal temperature and pressure, CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas and is present in air at a concentration of about 0.03%.

If there is a concentration of more than 3% or 4%, it can cause headaches and dizziness. At 10%, it can cause visual impairment and tinnitus and can lead to death in about one minute.

“Carbon dioxide will sink, as it’s heavier than air,” said Taro Mizutani, a former professor at Tsukuba University and current managing director of the Ibaraki Western Medical Center. “In a closed environment, such as inside a coffin, CO2 tends to accumulate even if the lid is open. Depending on how much dry ice is used, among other factors, there’s a risk of CO2 poisoning when you get close to the coffin.”

According to Zensoren, dry ice is necessary, while the amount varies depending on body size and how long it needs to be preserved.

Zensoren asked its member companies last month to confirm if there had been any similar incidents and give sufficient consideration to proper ventilation during a viewing, while letting bereaved family members know about the situation.

“If we take the proper precautions, such accidents can be avoided,” Mizutani said. “It’s important to keep the body in a well-ventilated place, allowing only a few people in at a time for a short period of time.”