13.5.1   Gases in goods of vegetable origin
The oxygen content of the storage atmosphere is not only reduced by the respiration of goods of vegetable origin but the excreted carbon dioxide also displaces the oxygen unless suitable ventilation measures ensure a constant supply of oxygen or removal of the build-up of CO2, which is possible with ventilated and refrigerated containers, but not with standard containers. This phenomenon has caused cases of poisoning or even fatalities to crew members and dock workers on ships carrying cargoes of onions, coconuts, cocoa beans or sawdust.
Carbon dioxide concentrations of just 2 - 6 vol.% in inhaled air are harmful to humans, causing labored breathing. Duration of exposure is significant in determining the degree of harm: breathing air with a CO2 content of 3.5 vol.% for half to one hour will endanger human life.
8 - 10 vol.% carbon dioxide in the inhaled air cause shortness of breath, unconsciousness and, after 6 - 10 minutes' inhalation, death.
A concentration of 20 vol.% in the inhaled air is immediately fatal.
Excessive concentrations of carbon dioxide are life-threatening to humans in two ways:
  • by asphyxiation (by displacement of atmospheric oxygen)

  • to a minor extent by intoxication (due to carbon dioxide's intrinsic irritant action on certain parts of the brain)

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