Toxic Gases Are the Silent Killers

Toxic gases can kill or injure people, both slowly and instantaneously, at home and in the workplace. These silent, harmful gases are produced naturally and intentionally. The three most common toxic gases are:  hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and methane.  They can subject innocent, unsuspecting people to harm or death in their homes or in the workplace. If safety procedures and safety devices are in place, many lives can be saved.

Hydrogen sulfide is known as “sewer gas” or “stink damp” for its rotten egg smell.  It is colorless and flammable and extremely hazardous. It can cause death in high concentrations in just a few breaths. It occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gases, and hot springs, and also results from bacterial breakdown of organic matter.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, lethal gas that is impossible to see and taste. In low concentrations, it causes flu-like symptoms:  headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. At high concentrations, it is a silent killer. It is generated by gasoline-powered equipment, such as motor vehicles, electric heaters, generators, gas stoves, and leaking chimneys. Tobacco smoke also generates carbon monoxide.

Methane is a colorless, odorless gas. In commercial natural gas production, they add sulfide to give the gas a detectable smell. Although methane is not toxic when inhaled, it can cause death by suffocation, as it prevents oxygen intake in the body. The principal use of methane is fuel, and an undetected gas leak could result in an explosion or asphyxiation.

To prevent danger from toxic gas in the home, carbon monoxide detectors should be installed and properly maintained with working batteries. In the workplace, employees should be informed and provided with updated safety equipment. In industries where toxic gas is known to exist, OSHA requires safety procedures, training and safety equipment.

Today, there are many detectors available that monitor the amount of gas in the air. For home use, they have monitors that signal an alarm to alert the family while they sleep. In the workplace, safety systems should always be installed. Each year, nearly 5,000 people in the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for carbon monoxide poisoning; however, this number is believed to be an under-estimate, because many people with carbon monoxide symptoms mistake their symptoms for the flu, or are misdiagnosed.

They have even come out with a smartphone that is capable of sensing high levels of toxic gas, sounding an alarm and sending an alert to the fire department.  With all the detectors and devices available today, no one should suffer from these silent killers anymore. Hopefully, all workplaces will have these detectors in working order, especially in confined spaces.

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