Methane is a common natural gas. It is often found in landfills, wastewater treatment facilities and coal mines, but it can also occur naturally in wetland areas as a result of the anaerobic decomposition of animal and plant matter. In areas such as these, it is important to monitor and control the gas as exposure to methane can result in poisoning and considerable harm to the environment.

Is methane gas dangerous?

When used in contained situations, methane gas is generally safe and poses very little risk to people and the environment. The gas is often used as fuel, burned in gas turbines, used in steam generators to produce electricity and it is also used domestically for heating and cooking in homes. However, that is not to say that methane is completely safe. When it is released into the atmosphere as a result of a leak, incorrect storing methods or a natural incident, it can cause significant harm.

Risks of methane gas to people

When exposed to large quantities or prolonged periods of methane gas, it can cause health issues in people. One of the things that makes it really dangerous is that it is odorless and colorless, so you may not even know that you have been exposed. Although it is not technically toxic, methane works as an asphyxiant and can deprive your body of oxygen.

Some of the most common signs of methane poisoning in people include:

  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizzy spells
  • Clumsiness
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired vision
  • Convulsions
  • In extreme cases, death

If you think you or someone you know has been exposed to methane or are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it is vital to move to a well-ventilated area to access more oxygen. You should then seek immediate professional medical assistance and alert the necessary authorities if you suspect a gas leak is the cause.

For those working in environments where methane is present, proper gas monitoring equipment must be installed and appropriate PPE should always be worn.

Dangers of methane gas to the environment

Methane gas can pose a huge risk to the environment. It is a greenhouse gas which means that it contributes to the greenhouse effect, global warming and climate change. Methane is second only to carbon dioxide when it comes to prevalent greenhouse gases and is responsible for around 10%.

Methane can enter the environment in a number of ways. For one, it is highly soluble in water and can leach from industrial sources or natural reservoirs. When it evaporates from the water or soil surface it releases into the atmosphere where it then absorbs solar radiation and contributes to heating.

The gas is also produced in large amounts by livestock and as a result of bacterial activity during the decomposition of waste materials. In landfill, these gases are often captured and used as a combustible fuel and although when unburned it poses a harmful risk to the environment, it actually burns very cleanly and produces much lower levels of carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels.

Another risk of methane is that it is highly flammable and can set alight at even a relatively low temperature. When allowed to mix with air at room temperature, it can become explosive and can be ignited by just a static discharge. Explosions may occur due to undetected leaks going unnoticed and may result in a space filling with methane. If this happens, it is vital to evacuate all personnel as soon as possible, secure and control access to the area and eliminate any sources of ignition. The area should then be well ventilated to help disperse the gas. If possible, the flow of gas should be stopped, but if this is not an option, remove the source and place it outside in the open, with the leak facing upwards to prevent gas from escaping in its liquid form.

Monitoring methane levels

In areas where methane is a risk, proper equipment should be installed such as natural gas leak detection and frequent monitoring of ambient methane levels needs to be carried out. By doing this, it will greatly reduce the risk of methane-related incidents.

Find out more about our environmental gas monitoring products to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and keep personnel safe.

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