Research Article

Lake Nyos disaster, Cameroon, 1986: the medical effects of large scale emission of carbon dioxide?

BMJ 1989; 298 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.298.6685.1437 (Published 27 May 1989) Cite this as: BMJ 1989;298:1437
  1. P. J. Baxter,
  2. M. Kapila,
  3. D. Mfonfu
  1. Department of Community Medicine, University of Cambridge Clinical School, Addenbrooke's Hospital.

    Abstract

    Carbon dioxide was blamed for the deaths of around 1700 people in Cameroon, west Africa, in 1986 when a massive release of gas occurred from Lake Nyos, a volcanic crater lake. The clinical findings in 845 survivors seen at or admitted to hospital were compatible with exposure to an asphyxiant gas. Rescuers noted cutaneous erythema and bullae on an unknown proportion of corpses and 161 (19%) survivors treated in hospital; though these lesions were initially believed to be burns from acidic gases, further investigation suggested that they were associated with coma states caused by exposure to carbon dioxide in air. The disaster at Lake Nyos and a similar event at Lake Monoun, Cameroon, two years previously provide new information on the possible medical effects of large scale emissions of carbon dioxide, though the presence of other toxic factors in these gas releases cannot be excluded.