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-   -   Potato Fumes Can Kill You (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=95106)

Eoin 23 December 2016 03:57 AM

Potato Fumes Can Kill You
 
I just ran across this on YouTube:

ENTIRE FAMILY DIES AFTER YOUNG WOMAN MAKES A SIMPLE MISTAKE IN THE KITCHEN

It's hard to stop laughing. I don't know where to begin explaining why. The computer generated voice with its odd inflections and mispronunciations? The strange and mysterious pen that writes by itself? The way the entire story sounds like a cross between a shaggy dog story and a fairy tale?

Little Maria's father goes into the cellar to get some potatoes. He doesn't return.
Little Maria's mother goes into cellar to find Father. She doesn't return.
Little Maria's brother goes into cellar to find their parents. He doesn't return.
Little Maria's grandmother goes into the cellar to find Maria's parents and brother. She doesn't return.

Eight-year-old Maria is now an orphan, her entire family having succumbed to the fumes of rotting potatoes.

"If you have potatoes in your home that have been sitting out for a long time, you may want to throw them out."

Just how many potatoes did this family have in their basement? How long did they wait between trips to the potato pile?

Perhaps sniffing rotten potatoes will become the next new "high" in Russia.

crocoduck_hunter 23 December 2016 04:17 AM

How in the world did the level of toxic gasses build up to the point that they were apparently instantly fatal without anyone in the family noticing them?

thorny locust 23 December 2016 01:18 PM

I don't feel like watching the video; but I wonder if somebody's got confused with silo gases, which can actually cause that sort of result.

Admittedly, I suppose that if fermenting grain can do it, I expect fermenting potatoes could also give off hazardous gasses. [ETA: and yes, it's possible to get to "instantly fatal", or at any rate fatal within a few breaths, without warning that's noticeable from outside the storage.]

Most people don't have anywhere near a silo's worth of potatoes in their basement, however.


-- but if you're out in farm country, do not ever go into a silo, or for that matter a manure storage pit, without knowing what you're doing. And if someone appears to be passed out in either: do not, absolutely do not, go in there at all. Call emergency rescue people, who will go in there wearing full SCUBA gear.

Nick Theodorakis 23 December 2016 02:17 PM

In the safety field, there is a concept called "confined space" work, and some of the training materials for this often have stories about workers or rescuers that have succumbed after the initial person who went into the confined space collapsed.

"Injuries and fatalities involving confined spaces are frequent and often involve successive fatalities when would-be rescuers succumb to the same problem as the initial victim. Approximately 60% of fatalities involve would-be rescuers and more than 30% of fatalities occur in a space that has been tested and found to be safe to enter. One example was in 2006 at the decommissioned Sullivan Mine in British Columbia, Canada when one initial victim and then three rescuers all died.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confined_space

Gutter Monkey 23 December 2016 09:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by crocoduck_hunter (Post 1937223)
How in the world did the level of toxic gasses build up to the point that they were apparently instantly fatal without anyone in the family noticing them?

Reeeeeally easily, a lot of those gases don't have any odor. Remember that manufacturers have to add an odorant to some gases to make them detectable if they leak.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odorizer

This is also the reason that miners used to take canaries down the mine.

crocoduck_hunter 24 December 2016 12:02 AM

Sure, plenty of toxic gasses can't be detected by scent.

But from rotting potatoes? Those things are giving off a lot of things that are a bit smellier than carbon monoxide.

Gutter Monkey 24 December 2016 12:11 AM

They may have expected a bad smell in the basement but wouldn't have been aware that it was dangerous. Also the gas could also have been contained in an area and opening up the basement might have caused it to flood out, as happened in this fatal mushroom farm incident.

Gas can behave strangely in confined spaces.

crocoduck_hunter 24 December 2016 02:18 AM

That would only make sense if they'd been gone for a month or something. If they'd been home all that time using the basement, I just would have expected someone to notice that the potatoes were starting to rot and thrown them out before things reached that level. If something like this did happen, I'd expect that the deaths were actually caused by a coincidental buildup of some other type of gas rather than being caused by the potatoes themselves.

Em 24 December 2016 02:34 AM

This particular incident appears to have been reported (in several languages) in 3-4 Sep 2013.

thorny locust 24 December 2016 02:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by crocoduck_hunter (Post 1937314)
That would only make sense if they'd been gone for a month or something. If they'd been home all that time using the basement, I just would have expected someone to notice that the potatoes were starting to rot and thrown them out before things reached that level. .

Basements vary, and so do people's sanitation standards. Some people turn the cellar out all at once in spring. Cold climate fruit and vegetable cellars may be most easily emptied out through an outside door that may be blocked by snow in winter -- especially if we're talking about bulk bins holding multiple hundreds of pounds. (Shovelling the snow out of the way, in addition to being extra work, reduces insulation that may be keeping other things stored in the basement from freezing.)

Again, I don't think most people have anywhere near enough potatoes in the house to produce the effect, even presuming that potatoes in an ordinary state of rot will do so. But it's possible that some people do.

I don't have any idea whether this specific incident happened; and I don't think anyone needs to go in terror of their five-pound or fifty-pound bag of potatoes. But it is certainly possible for multiple people to die because of gases given off by plant materials stored in enclosed spaces.

ETA: Em, do you have a link to a non-video version?

Gutter Monkey 24 December 2016 03:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by thorny locust (Post 1937316)
ETA: Em, do you have a link to a non-video version?

This was the only newspaper article I could find, although there's a lot of blogs and such which mention it

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...es-cellar.html

Edit: this HuffPo article has the same info and a link to the original Russian article
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014...n_7360976.html

thorny locust 24 December 2016 03:25 AM

Thanks, GM.

-- Firefox tells me that the site linked as being the original article is unsafe. If it's in Russian I couldn't have read it anyway.

The other two articles are clearly describing the same case, and do give names and location. That's not a guarantee that it happened, but does make it seem more plausible. I suspect any further research would have to be done by someone who can read Russian.

I think the first article linked is confused about solanine toxicity, however. To the best of my knowledge, this is a problem caused by eating potatoes that have been exposed to enough light to cause them to prepare to sprout (the potato will turn visibly green, though the color's more obvious on some colors of potatoes than others; if only part of it's green, you can cut off the green part and safely eat the rest. There's also quite a bitter flavor, so even if you don't see the green you're unlikely to eat enough to do damage.)

I doubt that solanine was the gas given off.


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