If you are a business owner or an employee you should be aware of a potentially deadly gas called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide or H2S occurs in several different situations and detection is key to health and safety.
What Is H2S?
H2S or hydrogen sulfide is a colorless chalcogen hydride gas. Carl Wilhelm is noted as the first chemist to discover H2S in 1777. It is poisonous, corrosive, and flammable. H2S is produced through the breakdown of organic matter when oxygen is not present in sewers and is also found in volcanic gas, and when drilling or producing crude oil and natural gas.
It is denser than air, and can be explosive. It can be produced by heating sulfur with organic compounds, and reducing sulfurated organic compounds with hydrogen. One interesting study at the University of Exeter found that when a human cell is stressed with a disease enzymes are drawn into the cell which produce small amounts of H2S. This new research could potentially aid in the prevention of heart disease, strokes, and arthritis.
How Is H2S Harmful?
The toxicity of H2S is similar to that of carbon monoxide. H2S irritates the mucous membranes in the body, as well as its respiratory system.
The health effects in humans from H2S poisoning include:
- Eye and Skin Irritation
- Central Nervous System Damage
- Respiratory Paralysis
Prolonged exposure to H2S can cause difficulty with attention, unconsciousness, headaches, and motor function issues. Other long-term symptoms are low blood pressure, headache, loss of appetite, skin rashes, and irritated eyes. While H2S does not accumulate in the body, repeated exposure can be fatal.
How Can You Detect or Prevent H2S?
While H2S has a distinctive rotten egg odor, it may not be detected in large areas, or in small quantities. Repeated exposure to small quantities of H2S can deaden the sense of smell and cause olfactory desensitization, so detection becomes even more of a challenge. Odor itself is not a reliable indicator because a high level of H2S could deaden the sense of smell immediately. Luckily there are several ways to utilize a H2S monitor to keep you and your employees safe.
An H2S monitor can be stationary, in one spot of the building, or able to be clipped directly onto an employee and monitored. If the gas cannot be eliminated from the situation (will always occur in the process of the business’ function) a self contained breathing apparatus should be worn at all times, and appropriate safety precautions taken, not only for human health and safety, but for fire and explosion risks as well.