Hydrogen sulfide is commonly known as sewer gas or swamp gas. This colorless gas carries with it a thick stench of sulfur, or a smell similar to rotten eggs. It carries with it a number of serious and imminent health and environmental dangers. Knowing about this toxic substance, where it is found and how it is produced can save you from liability and protect both you and your workers. Here is an overview.
Where Is Hydrogen Sulfide Found?
Sewer gas can be found or produced in a number of areas. The oil and gas refining industries produces the substance, as do mining facilities. It is often found in tanning, pulp and paper processing facilities and in rayon manufacturing.
Besides industrial areas, hydrogen sulfide is also found naturally in many places. Sewers and swamps, obviously, are common areas where the gas is produced. It also forms around manure pits, stagnant water, in wells (water, oil and gas) and in volcanoes. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air so it collects in manholes, sewers and underground vaults.
The Hazards of Sour Damp
Since it tends to collect in enclosed spaces underground, those workers whose jobs take them in these areas are at the highest risk. It can carry risks ranging from mild headaches and sore eyes to serious respiratory problems, unconsciousness, and even death. As it builds up in confined spaces, the smell becomes less noticeable, which means it’s harder to recognize its presence and thus, easier to overlook the danger.
Sewer gas is a leading cause of workplace death from gas inhalation in the United States. The speed at which workers can succumb to this gas is astounding. In the decade between 2001 and 2010, there were 60 deaths attributed to hydrogen sulfide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A Volatile Mix
Worse, the gas is highly flammable, so even a spark in an area where a great deal of the gas has collected can create an exceptionally volatile mixture. Such conditions can result in tragedy and disaster if the gas ignites or explodes.
It is vital if you work in an industry where exposure is a possibility, to evaluate and control this danger. Make sure that you are aware of the presence of hydrogen sulfide, and at what levels and saturation the gas sits. If possible, eliminate the gas from the location. Otherwise, develop engineering and administrative controls including proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect your workers against exposure.
Exhaust and ventilation systems are vital to reduce levels and control exposure. Ensure that your workers use no systems which produce sparks. Make sure your equipment is grounded and resistant to corrosion, as well as being separate from other exhaust systems. In general, you want as explosion-proof a system as possible.
This is just a brief overview of the dangers of hydrogen sulfide. OSHA publishes detailed policies and procedures for dealing with this deadly hazard. If you need more information on insurance liability and coverage for this sort of thing, take a look at our services today.