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Published on Jun 9, 2016
Methane (CH4) is a colorless, odorless and extremely flammable gas that can be explosive when mixed with air. It is a primary component of natural gas and is a major greenhouse gas. It is used to make ammonia, formaldehyde, hydrogen and methanol.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, human-related sources of methane include emissions from burning fossil fuels (such as coal, gasoline, natural gas and oil). These emissions can come from vehicles, fuel-burning equipment, operations on oil and gas fields, the processing, storage, and transport of natural gas, and the generation of electricity at coal-fired power plants. Hydraulic fracturing can also emit methane and methane is released from coal deposits during underground and surface mining.
Other sources of methane include the decomposition of waste in open dumps and landfills. Methane can be emitted from the digestive processes of domesticated livestock (such as cattle, goats and sheep, and from agricultural feeding operations), be produced during the decomposition of animal waste and be released through liquid manure management systems (such as lagoons and holding tanks). It can also be produced when manure is deposited on crop fields or pastures as fertilizer. Processes during wastewater treatment can emit methane, as can some of the sludge produced.
People are exposed to low levels of methane by breathing outdoor air. Those living by or working in an oil or gas field, coal mine, abandoned mine, farm, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, coal-fired power plant, hydraulic fracturing operation or a facility that uses methane to manufacture other chemicals could be exposed to higher levels.
Methane in its gas form is an asphyxiant, which in high concentrations may displace a person’s oxygen supply, especially in confined spaces. Decreased oxygen can cause suffocation and loss of consciousness. It can also cause headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and loss of coordination. Skin contact with liquid methane can cause frostbite.
These are just a few things to know about methane and potential exposure concerns. To learn more about this or other air quality, health, safety, occupational or property issues, please visit the websites shown below.