Have you ever smelt rotten eggs when passing by a dump or someone close to you passes gas? That’s the smell of hydrogen sulfide. This odor occurs when organic materials start to decay.
Prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide causes nausea and headaches in mild cases, but if levels are strong enough, it can cause instant death.
Let’s take a look at why the overexposure in the oil and gas industry is a huge problem by exploring its effects and how to avoid harm.
The Harm of Hydrogen Sulfide
Our bodies make tiny amounts of hydrogen sulfide in comparison with the amount of waste that’s produced by industrial or manufacturing plants. Coming in contact with levels higher than the amount we produce is extremely toxic and harmful to our bodies.
This gas irritates our skin, lungs, and stomach if consumed. The levels of exposure could do more than just irritate, it could cause certain death.
Hydrogen Sulfide’s Characteristics
Though this gas gets its glory mostly from the noticeable rotten egg smell, that odor isn’t always evident. It’s a colorless gas, and if we’ve been exposed to it long enough, we may not even notice its odor. Most of the exposure we experience comes from the inhalation of the gas.
The gas is very flammable and hazardous and is much heavier than air, so it travels on the ground. In 2012, there were 138 workers that died on the job, some of these deaths related to exposure to these horrific gases.
Hydrogen sulfide is known to fill spaces that are low-lying and tight. People working in the construction, mining, petroleum, sewage, and natural gas drilling industries are more susceptible because they are dealing with it on a daily basis.
The harmful effects of this gas start at a low level of 10ppm or less. This level causes shortness of breath and coughing, and exposure over a period of time causes headaches, irritability, and eye inflammations.
Exposure to higher levels of this gas causes respiratory irritation that leads to fluid in lungs, nausea and vomiting, and extreme eye irritation.
Extremely high levels, 100ppm or higher, are most dangerous to your health. They cause immediate shock, comas, convulsions or seizures, suffocation, unconsciousness, and could lead to death.
Protection from Gas
OSHA has limits set as far as the amount of exposure one is limited to. This legal safety limit is set over an eight-hour period and limited exposure at 10ppm.
If you’re working in high levels of hydrogen sulfide, it’s best to wear an air-purifying respirator or breathing apparatus. Workers also need to be wearing gloves and special clothing.
Avoiding or Protecting Yourself
As you can see, hydrogen sulfide is a nasty, dangerous gas. If you have contact with it over prolonged periods of time, make sure you’re protected and safe by following the limits and wearing appropriate clothing and air masks.
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