Methane Exposure Risks in the Workplace
Methane exposure gas (CH4) is odorless, colorless, extremely flammable, and when it mixes with air, can be highly explosive. Methane exposure thus poses a substantial health and safety risk. It is also a potent greenhouse gas, a key component of natural gas, and is used to manufacture chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen, formaldehyde and methanol.
Sources of MethaneHuman sources of methane emissions include those released as a result of burning fossil fuels such as oil, gasoline, natural gas and coal. These methane emissions can be released during the process of extracting oil and gas from oil fields, during the storage and transportation of natural gas; from vehicles or other equipment that burn fuel, or from coal-fired power stations. Methane can also be released from the ground as a result of hydro-fracking or coal mining operations. Other sources include organic waste decomposing on landfills, methane released from domestic livestock during the digestion process, as well as decomposing animal waste, manure applied to fields to fertilize crops, and during wastewater treatment processes.
Health Risks Associated with Methane ExposureExposure to methane gas poses a risk of asphyxiation as when it is present in high concentrations it can displace oxygen causing a person to suffocate and become unconscious. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, weakness and loss of coordination. Because methane is a gas that occurs naturally in the air, we are all exposed to methane at low levels when we breathe the air outdoors. However, some people face a greater risk of being exposed to methane at higher concentrations. These include people who work or live near landfills, wastewater treatment plants, farms, oil/gas fields or hydro-fracking operations, or chemical manufacturing plants that use methane to produce other chemical products. To improve occupational health and safety and to prevent accidental exposure to methane gas in the workplace, managers are advised to take some precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of their staff. Diamond Scientific provides a range of air quality instruments that are able to give accurate readings related to air quality, including the hand-held TDL-500 that is able to detect methane and will sound a warning alarm when concentrations of methane or other hazardous air pollutants are high.
Featured Image by Jeremy Buckingham via Flickr