As Canada Explores Carbon Capture, Experts Warn of Health Risks

When a CO2 pipeline fails, it fails catastrophically, endangering people and animals.

A white building on black stilts sits in front of a white sky. In the background orange towers billow white smoke. In the foreground, two workers stand, small, wearing yellow and orange jackets.

Boundary Dam Power Station in Estevan, CA is the location of the world's first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage operation.Michael Bell/AP

This story was originally published by Canada’s National Observer and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A little over three years ago, a menacing fog crept into the valley surrounding the small village of Satartia, Missisippi, causing a mass poisoning. Within minutes of breathing the air, residents choked and dropped to the ground. Nearly 50 people were hospitalized.

First responders didn’t know the calamity was caused by a carbon dioxide pipeline failing, but clues were there as they struggled to get to the scene. Gas-powered vehicles couldn’t move, and some people lay in the streets struggling to breathe. Jack Willingham, the emergency director for the town’s county, told NPR, “It looked like you were going through the zombie apocalypse.” And he told HuffPost that despite the disaster, the village was in fact lucky because if the wind had blown differently or the incident had happened when people were sleeping, there would have been deaths.

The havoc that day was caused by a rupture in a carbon dioxide pipeline that shot a massive white cloud of concentrated CO2 into the air in a dangerous rolling fog. Because CO2 displaces oxygen and oxygen is needed for gas-powered cars to work, vehicles wouldn’t run. Because CO2 is heavier than air, the thick fog didn’t dissipate but settled on the ground where its lethal potential was narrowly avoided.

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