During exercise, less additional CO2 is stored per kilogram body weight in children than in adults, suggesting that children have a smaller capacity to store metabolically produced CO2. To examine this, tracer doses of [13C]bicarbonate were administered orally to 10 children (8-12 yr) and 12 adults (25-40 yr) at rest. Washout of 13CO2 in breath was analyzed to estimate recovery of tracer, mean residence time (MRT), and size of CO2 stores. CO2 production (VCO2) was also measured breath by breath using gas exchange techniques. Recovery did not differ significantly between children [73 +/- 13% (SD)] and adults (71 +/- 9%). MRT was shorter in children (42 +/- 7 min) compared with adults (66 +/- 15 min, P less than 0.001). VCO2 per kilogram was higher in the children (5.4 +/- 0.9 ml.min-1.kg-1) compared with adults (3.1 +/- 0.5, P less than 0.0001). Tracer estimate of CO2 production was correlated to VCO2 (r = 0.86, P less than 0.0001) and when corrected for mean recovery accurately predicted the VCO2 to within 3 +/- 14%. There was no difference in the estimate of resting CO2 stores between children (222 +/- 52 ml CO2/kg) and adults (203 +/- 42 ml CO2/kg). We conclude that orally administered [13C]bicarbonate can be used to assess CO2 transport dynamics. The data do not support the hypothesis of lower CO2 stores under resting conditions in children.