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efreysson
11-26-2016, 04:54 PM
I'm arriving at a point in my sci-fi WIP where my protagonists are guests at a compound, but but the host decides to murder them by pumping toxic fumes into their bedroom while they are sleeping. I need it to be slow-acting enough for the heroes to realise what's going on, and break out.

Now, the host didn't plan on having to resort to this, so he doesn't have actual chemical warfare agents on hand. He IS in charge of some industry (I can arrange the details of the exact nature of it to fit the story), so maybe some industrial side effect would work.

Any suggestions?

be frank
11-26-2016, 04:58 PM
Carbon monoxide. (http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm)

MDSchafer
11-26-2016, 05:08 PM
Benzene

Chris P
11-26-2016, 05:17 PM
Bleach and ammonia mixed. (http://chemistry.about.com/od/toxicchemicals/a/Mixing-Bleach-And-Ammonia.htm)Ingredients are easy to find.

talktidy
11-26-2016, 06:07 PM
I was going to suggest carbon monoxide, but I see Be Frank got there first.

efreysson
11-26-2016, 06:30 PM
Yeah, carbon monoxide was my first thought too, but as I said I need something the characters can figure out is being pumped in. Does anyone know about the symptoms of the fumes mentioned so far?

Maryn
11-26-2016, 06:35 PM
I was going to say bleach and ammonia mixed. I accidentally made myself very woozy with this combination once, long ago.

King Neptune
11-26-2016, 08:10 PM
Bleach and ammonia are quite effective. When mixed they form chloramine gas, and I believe that was the form of chlorine that was used during WW I.

Maryn
11-26-2016, 09:16 PM
And also in the bathroom of my old house, when we found so much mold behind the tub surround!

Maryn, who would have looked cute in a gas mask (and been safer, too)

Marissa D
11-26-2016, 09:25 PM
Google "symptoms of CO poisoning"--I think one of the main signs is that people turn very red-faced.

MaeZe
11-26-2016, 10:35 PM
Yeah, carbon monoxide was my first thought too, but as I said I need something the characters can figure out is being pumped in. Does anyone know about the symptoms of the fumes mentioned so far?

From the MayoClinic: "Dull headache. Weakness. Dizziness. Nausea or vomiting. Shortness of breath. Confusion."

- - - Updated - - -


Google "symptoms of CO poisoning"--I think one of the main signs is that people turn very red-faced.

By the time you are bright red you are in serious trouble. It's more like a sign in a cadaver.

King Neptune
11-26-2016, 11:08 PM
For chloramine Chlorine bleach and ammonia"
http://www.vce.org/chloraminesymptoms.html
Respiratory Symptoms
• sinus and nasal congestion, sneezing
• coughing and choking, wheezing
• dry throat, swollen throat, difficulty swallowing
• asthma-like symptoms, shortness of breath
• dry mouth, bad breath, furry-coating on tongue

Skin Symptoms
• rashes and red burning skin, intense itching
• dry, chapping, flaking, cracking skin, bleeding
• dry, itchy scalp, dandruff

Eye Symptoms
• dry, stinging, or burning eyes
• tearing, red eyes
• bleary eyes
• blurry vision

blacbird
11-26-2016, 11:19 PM
Google "symptoms of CO poisoning"--I think one of the main signs is that people turn very red-faced.

It is a disturbingly common tragedy that people are overcome in their sleep by CO poisoning. No symptoms will ever be noticed. It has no odor, and that's why CO detectors are widely used in houses.

caw

ironmikezero
11-26-2016, 11:38 PM
Another vote for carbon monoxide--especially if the perpetrator is smart enough to include plausible deniability if the gas is discovered. Accidental CO poisoning is commonplace; any insufficiently vented and/or malfunctioning combustion heater can be held to blame. What does your story need?

efreysson
11-27-2016, 02:48 AM
It is a disturbingly common tragedy that people are overcome in their sleep by CO poisoning. No symptoms will ever be noticed. It has no odor, and that's why CO detectors are widely used in houses.


This is why I'm a bit hesitant to use CO. I do need the characters to detect trouble, after all.


Another vote for carbon monoxide--especially if the perpetrator is smart enough to include plausible deniability if the gas is discovered. Accidental CO poisoning is commonplace; any insufficiently vented and/or malfunctioning combustion heater can be held to blame. What does your story need?

Well, his plan is to dispose of the bodies and deny ever having seen the victims.

frimble3
11-27-2016, 02:59 AM
My vote's for CO poisoning - a woman I work with lost both parents to it. There was a power outage, the father turned on the emergency gasoline generator in the basement (poorly ventilated), went down to check on it, never came back up. The mother went down to check on him (so they figured later) and also never came back up.

But, if the plan is to kill everyone in their sleep, maybe one of your characters is a light sleeper, or stays awake for some reason, maybe two of them are talking, and feels the onset of symptoms, a) he's heard about CO poisoning, or had some prior experience of it, b) if there's a second person, they can realise that they both have the same symptoms, and figure something's up.
They wake the rest just in time.

CWatts
11-27-2016, 03:04 AM
This is why I'm a bit hesitant to use CO. I do need the characters to detect trouble, after all.

Since it's sci-fi, couldn't one of your characters have their gear detect the carbon monoxide and wake them with an alarm? Especially if they'd been in the industrial area and forgot to deactivate it after. (Or they could just have a nifty gas mask like Starlord....)

blacbird
11-27-2016, 05:58 AM
One of the major problems with toxic fumes a person would notice, is that, by the time it's noticed, you're probable dead. A possibility might be hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which, in very small concentrations, gives the horrid odor of rotten eggs. But, in any dangerous concentration, the first thing it does is kill the olfactory nerves, so you smell nothing. Then you die, very quickly. It is considerably more toxic than hydrogen cyanide, and is a major concern for oilfield drillers, where it can be encountered in underground penetrations. To the point that, in many oilfield operations, they issue gas masks, and men can't wear facial hair, because the gas masks won't seat properly if you have a beard. Natural emissions of hydrogen sulfide have killed buffalo and other animals in Yellowstone Park, and humans in other volcanically-active areas like Iceland.

caw

Masterpick
11-27-2016, 07:06 PM
I'm not sure what your characters' pasts were, but if they had any sort of experience with hypoxia training/ experience, they'd be able to spot CO poisoning with their own individual symptoms. Military personnel have this, some EMTs, skydivers, various occupations here and there. The problem is that you have to have one of the characters wake up and notice their own symptoms of hypoxia, then react. Recognizing those symptoms saved my life (I argue) while running an engine dyno in a poorly ventilated garage.

The other thought I had was already said: bleach and ammonia, but I don't know as much about 'spotting' that. Hope this helps!

RedRajah
11-27-2016, 07:14 PM
If it makes sense, you could always have a Plucky Animal Sidekick detect the CO emission and save the humans' lives.

efreysson
11-27-2016, 07:54 PM
I'm not sure what your characters' pasts were, but if they had any sort of experience with hypoxia training/ experience, they'd be able to spot CO poisoning with their own individual symptoms. Military personnel have this, some EMTs, skydivers, various occupations here and there.

Hmm. Well, they are space travellers, so it would make sense for something like that to be a part of basic safety training.

Can someone clue me in on circa how long it takes for CO buildup to become life-threatening?

Cindyt
11-27-2016, 08:07 PM
My cleaning-nut mother used to mix Ajax and Clorox. I walked into the bathroom one day and there was a white cloud rising from the throne. I covered my mouth, flushed, and opened the window. Told her about it too and she never did it again.

Masterpick
11-28-2016, 06:14 AM
Hmm. Well, they are space travellers, so it would make sense for something like that to be a part of basic safety training.

Can someone clue me in on circa how long it takes for CO buildup to become life-threatening?

Depends on how much CO there is in the air. That might make writing the scene a bit easier for you.

blacbird
11-28-2016, 07:02 AM
Can someone clue me in on circa how long it takes for CO buildup to become life-threatening?

Not long at all. A matter of minutes. Don't experiment.

caw

efreysson
11-28-2016, 11:26 AM
Not long at all. A matter of minutes. Don't experiment.

caw

I wasn't planning on it. :)

neandermagnon
11-29-2016, 10:53 PM
Can someone clue me in on circa how long it takes for CO buildup to become life-threatening?

That's like asking how long does it take to fill a bath. If the plug's in and the taps are on full... not long. If the plug's out and the taps are just dribbling, then maybe never.

It depends on how much and how fast CO is getting in and whether it's getting out (e.g. through open windows, cracks in the wall, any kind of ventilation). I know of cases in the UK where families have suffered symptoms of CO poisoning for days before it builds up to toxic levels to kill anyone. On the other hand if it's being deliberately pumped into a room where there's no ventilation, it'll build up very quickly. Toxic levels will be different depending on age/body size. Children will die at lower concentrations than adults. Smokers will already have CO in their system due to smoking (it's just one of the toxins in cigarette smoke). People with certain medical conditions will be more vulnerable, etc.

There used to be campaigns for people to be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning and the importance of getting your boiler checked regularly (gas boilers are common over here). Nowadays, it's the landlord's legal responsibility to have regular checks on gas boilers and have a certificate to prove it's been checked, and most flats nowadays will have CO detectors. I've got a CO detector by the boiler in my flat. That eliminates the need to worry about whether having a headache and feeling run down means you have to get out of the house and get your boiler checked or whether it's just a virus.

I'd find it plausible if a character in the story wasn't asleep and recognised the symptoms of CO poisoning, especially if others all came down with the same symptoms at the same time. I'd find it more plausible if someone had a CO detector though.

The existence and ease of buying CO detectors might cause an issue for your story though... would the antagonist not suspect that some people would own CO detectors and choose a different gas instead? On the other hand, CO has the advantage of being undetectable to human senses and the fact that you suffer symptoms similar to a viral infection then go to sleep and die, unaware that you're being poisoned. The antagonist may decide that CO detectors are a risk to take, coupled with the fact that people with CO detectors would have gas boilers and would suspect their gas boiler's stopped working right, rather than suspecting mass murder.

If gas boilers aren't a thing in your future world, CO detectors might be obsolete, or only used in power stations (if they're combusting fuels) so CO detectors may not necessarily be a thing in the future.

frimble3
11-30-2016, 08:44 AM
If they're spacetravellers, CO detectors might still be a thing, maybe built into their clothes. Deaths by going into enclosed spaces on sea-going vessels is not uncommon. Small, sealed spaces can built up CO/lose oxygen quickly, especially if there's corrosion. 4 men died in New Westminster BC a dozen years ago, one going in after another in attempted rescues. (The last one, probably suspicious, managed to phone out a warning before he collapsed.)
http://www.ecoweek.ca/issues/ISarticle.asp?aid=1000193138
They were unable to determine whether it was toxic fumes or CO, but the cause of death was 'lack of oxygen'. General oxygen detectors might be more useful, and less obvious, than a specific CO detector. Doesn't matter what gas he uses, as long as it displaces the oxygen.

Bolero
12-02-2016, 01:14 AM
If you want them to wake up and get out, then I wouldn't go with CO.
Go with something that is an irritant, so they sneeze and wake up. Benzene might also do that - think strong gloss paint fumes. (Benzene isn't in gloss paint ASAIK, but strong solvent.)

However, in terms of plausibility, how dim is your murderer? If they regularly work with solvents and the like, then they would know about the irritant effects and the sneezing.

Another thought on solvents is chloroform or ether - both strong smells - you'd need to check on the irritant/sneeze level.

blacbird
12-02-2016, 02:13 AM
Small, sealed spaces can built up CO/lose oxygen quickly, especially if there's corrosion. 4 men died in New Westminster BC a dozen years ago, one going in after another in attempted rescues. .

This problem can happen with CO2 and N2, as well as with CO. CO2 is a really insidious problem, because it's significantly heavier than the major gases in air (O2 and N2), and under the right conditions, can settle in low places like caves or construction trenches, and be hard to detect.

caw

Tazlima
12-02-2016, 03:00 AM
True story re: CO poisoning


When I was a kid, I had a cockatiel and a guinea pig that both lived in my bedroom. One day I came home and the guinea pig, Carmen Ghia, was dead. I was sad, but Carmen was quite elderly for a guinea pig, so her death wasn't unexpected. What WAS unexpected whas when, a few days later, Lemonhead the cockatiel also passed away. Lemonhead wasn't even two years old, and he showed no sign of illness in the days before his death.

The death of two pets back-to-back like that made my mother suspicious, and she had the house tested for CO. Turned out we had a serious leak from our central gas heat. Carmen and Lemonhead were the inadvertant canaries in our coal mine. They saved our lives.

So if you want to do CO poisoning and also have them figure it out, a small animal that succumbs before the gas is concentrated enough to kill a human could tip them off.

Chris P
12-02-2016, 03:14 AM
Derail:

The "canary in a coal mine" practice doesn't always work. It depends on how concentrated the poison is, and the metabolism of the animal versus human. At high doses, the canary dies first because of its faster breathing rate, smaller mass-to-lung-surface-area ratio, and other factors. However, because the bird's metabolism is faster, at lower doses it can detoxify and eliminate some toxins faster, so the bird is fine while the human succumbs.

This has little to do with the topic. But isn't it something? Okay, maybe only to me.