Chemical and Lack of Available Oxygen

If the oxygen in the atmosphere is replaced by another chemical or gas, or if a person's red blood cells are unable to deliver oxygen to bodily tissues, a person will asphyxiate. Depletion of atmospheric oxygen usually occurs in a relatively closed environment. Examples include gas which can accumulate and displace oxygen in improperly vented mine shafts, sewers, or chemical storage tanks. It is common to encounter multiple deaths in such cases because rescuers can also be overcome by fumes and lack of oxygen.

Examples of chemical asphyxia by interfering with oxygen delivery to the tissues include carbon monoxide and cyanide. When a car is left running in a closed garage, carbon monoxide from burning gasoline competes with oxygen on the red blood cells. Carbon monoxide can incapacitate a person very quickly. Cyanide causes livor mortis to be red as in carbon monoxide poisoning. The cyanide gas may smell like bitter almonds. Both deaths can occur quickly, especially cyanide poisoning.

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