Warning! Dry Ice (CO2) vapors can kill you!

Death can occur as quickly as a minute!

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The internet is awash with sophomoric articles, which encourage children and adults to “play” with frozen carbon dioxide, as if it was as harmless as autumn leaves or tadpoles. People are getting killed as a result. Several websites even tell readers how to make their own dry ice with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher . . . doubly dangerous.

On February 29, 2020 in Moscow, Russia, the husband of Yekaterina Didenko decided to climax her 29th birthday party by dumping 29 kg (64 lb) of frozen carbon dioxide into their swimming pool after guests had exited their sauna. The “trick” was recommended in one of the websites show above, “How to activate dry ice for wedding photos.”

Three people, including her husband, died. Paramedics were able to resuscitate eight more guests before their hearts were permanently stopped by CO2 bubbles in their pulmonary arteries. They were fortunate to be living in an affluent neighborhood near a paramedic station.

These workers should be carrying emergency oxygen masks! Immediate exposure to concentrated oxygen is the only action that can prevent possible permanent damage to the heart and lungs from concentrated carbon dioxide.

Supermarket follies

Two days ago, I noticed a young supermarket employee in her early 20s or late teens stick her head into the cooler, used to market dry ice, while fetching a box of dry ice for a customer. She intentionally took a breath then was obviously wobbly afterward, but had a silly grin on her face. I shouted to her, “Young lady, don’t do that! It could kill you.”

She glanced over to me . . . laughed . . . then blurted, “Yea . . . and you probably think that Biden won the election, too.” She walked away laughing, still not realizing that she and her fellow employees were flirting with death, when playing the “dry ice game.”

Murder via frozen carbon dioxide

When I got up this morning, I realized that today was the 30th anniversary of the day when I made a discovery that ultimately taught me the danger of dry ice. It was as good a time as any to pass on that knowledge to the pubic. Given the vast numbers of internet articles and Youtube videos about playing with frozen carbon dioxide, the public is obviously unaware how dangerous this gas can be.

The full story of the murder of a Shenandoah County, VA deputy and surrounding circumstances can be found in my online book,  The Shenandoah Chronicles.  I was involved as a “Friend of the Court” asset in a massive criminal investigation of corruption among South Florida, North Georgia, Northwest Virginia and Washington, DC law enforcement personnel thirty years ago.  This is just one of many horrific incidents in that saga.

For years, federal law enforcement had been suspicious that a major drug-gun-counterfeit airplane part pipeline was running from Miami to northern Georgia to northern Virginia.  Guns and drugs that were supposed to be locked up in the evidence lockers of law enforcement agencies in Florida and Georgia were showing up in Mafia-related crimes in the Northeastern United States.  Meanwhile, an astonishing percentage of honest citizens in Northern Virginia, who confidentially provided information on illegal drug activities were dead within a few months.

Nothing was really done until two investigative reporters for the Washington Post were murdered in Shenandoah County then the local authorities did nothing. Nationally, over 100 newspaper and TV reporters were assassinated during the first five months in 1991.  The Washington Post raised hell. . . as they say.

Because I had some intelligence experience and had construction projects or goat cheese customers scattered all over northern Virginia, I was asked to ferry intelligence between honest law enforcement officers in our county and a covert FBI agent, who posed as a real estate attorney in Winchester, VA. 

In the process, I became good friends with a senior deputy, who was a devout Christian and deacon in a Church of the Brethren (German Baptist) Congregation near our farm.  During a chilly spell in September 1991, he was found dead in his patrol car on a gravel road, leading down to the Shenandoah River. There was no evidence of violence.  The coroner ruled his death a heart attack without an autopsy, but a pathologist at the county hospital was suspicious and so did secretly take some blood and tissue samples, which I ferried to the covert FBI agent . . . in a container kept cold with dry ice.

After the first hard frosts on Oct. 5 and 6 had killed off the dense vegetation, I drove over the gravel road on October 8, where my friend’s patrol car had been parked.  I walked around the dead grass and bushes, looking for possible evidence. Mainly, I found the detritus left behind by young lovers, but also found two dry ice shipping boxes, like the one that had carried the deputy’s tissue and blood samples. That was odd, but I probably would not have retrieved them had I not previously delivered one to my FBI contact.

Assuming that nothing I found was significant, I waited until October 13th to bring the two boxes and bag of love detritus into Washington, DC.   I was scheduled to compete our goat cheese in a gourmet food tasting competition at Union Station, across from the Capitol, on October 14th.  

Vivi in December 1991

My secret French soulmate, Vivi, flew in on the 13th.  She was excited because the judge of the competition was Chef Julia Child!  Vivi had purchased five restaurants and an ancient winery.  She was enrolled in the Ecôle de Cordon Bleu and was excited about meeting Julia Child.  I gave virtually no thought to the plastic bag and boxes that were given to my hosts, thinking them of no use to federal law enforcement.

As usual, we stayed in the guest quarters of Bob and Sara Danby (pseudonyms) who the world thought were senior historians with the Smithsonian Institute, but were actually, highly respected senior FBI employees . . . the real X-files couple, who worked in the basements of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Library of Congress.  They considered the two boxes to be very significant, but didn’t initially tell me why.

The FBI’s forensic people determined that the two dry ice shipping containers had been punctured in numerous locations with something like an ice pick.  The boxes had been filled to the brim with frozen carbon dioxide.  There was no tissue residue.  However, the adhesive tape on the outside of the boxes contained fibers from the type of carpets used in Ford 1969-1970 Police Interceptor sedans –  the model car that the deputy was driving.  They were surprised to learn that concentrated carbon dioxide vapors are far more lethal than carbon monoxide gas.

Sara and Bob theorized that the deputy had been asked to meet with an informant down on the river, who probably claimed that the box contained important evidence for the FBI. An FBI pathologist told Bob that within about ten seconds after the deputy closed the car windows and turned on his heater, CO2 bubbles blocked oxygen to his heart muscles, making him unconscious. Within about a minute, he was clinically dead and within four minutes, his brain stopped functioning.

NEVER let your children play with dry ice. Never try to recreate movie scenes of CO2 fog like the Russian couple did . . . and if you work in a supermarket, for God’s sake, don’t stick your head in a dry ice cooler to get high.

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