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Hydrogen Sulfide & Human Exposure Risks

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Published on Mar 22, 2014

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable, and potentially extremely hazardous gas that has a "rotten egg" smell. It occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas and hot springs. It is also produced by the microbial breakdown of organic materials, including human and animal wastes.

Examples of industrial activities that can produce hydrogen sulfide include petroleum and natural gas drilling, refining, wastewater treatment, coke ovens, tanneries and some types of paper mill processing.

Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air and may travel along the ground. It can collect in low-lying and enclosed, poorly-ventilated areas such as basements, manholes, sewer lines, underground telephone vaults and manure pits. For work within confined spaces or where the gas may collect, people need to use appropriate procedures for identifying hazards, monitoring and entering confined spaces.

The primary route of hydrogen sulfide exposure is through inhalation. People can smell the "rotten egg" odor of hydrogen sulfide at low concentrations in air. However, with continuous low-level exposure, or at high concentrations, a person loses their ability to smell the gas even though it is still present due to olfactory fatigue.

Hydrogen sulfide is highly flammable and can be explosive. If ignited, the gas burns to produce toxic vapors and gases, such as sulfur dioxide.

It is both an irritant and a chemical asphyxiant with effects on both oxygen utilization and the central nervous system. Its health effects can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure. Repeated exposure can result in health effects occurring at levels that were previously tolerated without any effect.

These are just a few things to know about hydrogen sulfide and exposure risks. To learn more about this or other indoor air quality, health & safety, and environmental issues, please visit the websites shown in the video.

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