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Along the Route: Health impact of carbon dioxide poisoning

A look at both the Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 pipeline maps in their entirety. (Siouxland News, Summit Carbon, Heartland Greenway)
A look at both the Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 pipeline maps in their entirety. (Siouxland News, Summit Carbon, Heartland Greenway)
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Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring byproduct of the environment. As humans, we expel it with every breath we take. Plants use carbon dioxide to create the oxygen we breathe in. Carbon dioxide is a critical component of life.

But in high quantities, carbon dioxide is toxic and even fatal. That is a major concern for those opposing liquid carbon capture pipelines proposed for the central United States.

"There is a twofold safety issue with that too because when it immediately explodes, that is a cryo-frozen product and it will freeze anything in the blast zone," Dave Hoferer told me during an interview with other local residents opposing the pipelines. "And then it warms up and spreads out in a blanket, whichever way the wind is blowing, whichever the temperature is."

A group of Siouxland landowners and concerned citizens have been fighting to keep Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures out of the region. While they have several reasons they oppose the pipelines, their biggest concern is safety and the dangers pressurized liquid carbon dioxide poses should a rupture occur.


The environment holds about .04 percent CO2. If concentrations get to 2%, that is when you can begin to feel the effects of carbon dioxide poisoning like headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased breathing, and confusion, according to health experts at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center.

"If it goes above 8%, then people have more profound nausea and vomiting," said Amanda Monroe-Rubendall, an RN with MercyOne Siouxland. "And then when it gets above 10%, that's when there's enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to actually displace the oxygen and people can suffocate."

Carbon dioxide is denser than air. Unlike natural gas or methane, it's colorless, tasteless and odorless. The carbon dioxide in these proposed pipelines will be pressurized into a liquid-like state. Should a pipeline rupture or leak and come to the surface, the pressurized CO2 would settle low to the ground, essentially replacing the oxygen we breathe.

This isn't just a danger for those living near the pipelines but it could also pose a problem for first responders. "It can also make rescue efforts difficult because the internal combustion engines like in your car have no oxygen in order to be able to run, so then rescue vehicles have a hard time operating. You need to get out of that area," said Monroe-Rubendall.


"We have a statement from one of (the pipeline) agents that they are going to train our local fire department and furnish them the equipment," said Jim Colyer, a Woodbury County resident fighting against the pipelines, "but who's going to give them electric fire trucks and electric rescue equipment? Because we all know that our combustion engines need oxygen to run and this plume displaces all of the oxygen."

"They're already bringing in pipes and equipment and dumping it on people's land that has signed easements and they haven't even trained the area firefighters and EMTs yet," said Vicki Hulse.

PHMSA, the governmental agency monitoring pipelines, released new safety regulations after the Satartia, Mississippi carbon capture pipeline rupture in 2020. Summit and Navigator each say they are making safety a priority.

"We've done the overviews, we've done the trainings, we've developed the plans," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson with Navigator CO2. "We've equipped these teams with the infrastructure and component pieces and equipment that they need. We've tested those plans before anything goes into the pipe."

"Ultimately, we're building the safest pipeline in the history of the country and the reason for that is because the technology is so much more recent," said Summit CEO Lee Blank.


"Along the Route: A Pipeline Discussion" is a multi-part series of reports looking at everything from the companies that want to build them to those "for" and those "against" and a deeper dive into to carbon and ethanol industries at the center of the project.

Over the next several weeks, Siouxland News Anchor Katie Copple will be sharing a series of stories, which you will find linked below as they air every Tuesday and Wednesday evening on Siouxland News at 9 on FOX and Siouxland News at 10 on CBS.

Bookmark this story here to find the entire series as it airs on Siouxland News.

Follow Siouxland News Anchor Katie Copple on Facebook for the latest on the pipeline projects.

Have a pipeline story you want to share? Send Katie an email:

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