Here in the Permian Basin region, we are all pretty familiar with that smelly gas, hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Recently, there has been some high-profile H2S coverage in the news but not in Midland/Odessa – rather on the island of Hawaii. That’s right, VOLCANOES release massive quantities of the gas providing that always-noticeable “rotten egg smell” found at any active volcano site. But you don’t need to live next to a volcano to be at potential risk from hydrogen sulfide gas so let’s take a look at H2S risks and ways to keep safe around the home and workplace.
As we already mentioned, H2S gas carries a distinct odor at low concentrations which is very similar to rotten eggs. Yuck. But, fortunately, that smell is a warning that says “HEY, I am highly corrosive, poisonous, and flammable – stay away!!!”. Beyond smelling like a nasty stink bomb, H2S gas is very hazardous to humans and must be taken seriously. It is a gas slightly heavier than our atmosphere so it will generally sink and collect in low-lying areas such as sewers, basements, wells, tunnels, swamps, and other poorly ventilated spaces. H2S is produced naturally as a result of decaying plants, animals, and sewage as well as volcanic activity. In the industrial world, hydrogen sulfide is used in petroleum & natural gas extraction, paper manufacturing, and waste disposal.
The risks are not to be taken lightly. At low-level exposure a person can experience nausea, headaches, cough & sore throat, eye irritation, and possible pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). These are generally temporary reactions that resolve soon after being removed from contaminated area. Ironically, the rotten-egg smell that makes H2S gas so infamous is not present at high concentrations and our noses will not know the gas is present! So, it’s even MORE dangerous at higher levels. In these cases someone can collapse almost immediately and faces a high probability of death and/or brain damage. For this reason industry regulations and state & federal laws now require monitoring and safety measures related to H2S gas, making sure workspaces are properly ventilated and that detection devices are present in the appropriated settings. In any case, contact medical professionals immediately upon suspected H2S exposure.
In the workplace, our Blakely field crews train continually on H2S safety procedures and preventative measures because of their high risk of exposure when working around gas and petroleum drilling sites. As a matter of fact, the fossil fuel industry is considered to carry one of the highest risk factors for H2S exposure so we make sure we are AWARE and PREPARED at all times. Our team constantly maintains the proper detection devices, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), and protocols so we can make sure everyone goes home safely from the job.
For the rest of us, we will focus on exposure and safety in the home. Generally speaking, most homes are not at a great risk for H2S contamination. In fact you are most likely to smell it when lighting a gas-burner on your stove because H2S is added to natural gas so we can smell a leak! We still must be aware of the risks and how to best avoid dangerous situations. The major home-related risks are septic systems, water wells, and cellars/basements. It is best to keep detection devices in high-risk areas and to keep these areas VENTILATED at all times to prevent a dangerous build up.
From all of us at Blakely Construction,