Friday, December 13, 2013

Health effects of Natural Gas leakage

Natural gas is a fossil fuel (formed when layers of buried plants and animals were exposed to pressure and heat for thousands of years) and is primarily composed of methane. Methane is a highly flammable compound. In its purest form, natural gas is colorless and odorless. Although, gas companies add a tinge of warning smell to it that helps in detecting any gas leakage. It is extensively used as fuel in vehicles and for various commercial, residential and industrial purposes. Exposure to natural gas through gas leaks can be quite dangerous, may lead to explosions, pose health risks and can even be fatal. These small gas leaks accumulate over a period of time and add significant amount of pollutants that stresses the immune system and other body functions. Gas leaks can cause serious harm to plants, thus affecting the environmental ecosystem.

Health problems related to natural gas leak
The major health effect of natural gas leakage (or exposure to methane) is asphyxiation. It is a serious health condition where the body is not able to get sufficient oxygen supply, which may lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage, and death. People with high chemical sensitivity are more susceptible to this disease.

Combustion (or burning) of natural gas releases large amounts of water vapor, giving way to growth of moulds, mites, viruses and bacteria, and helps these particulates and volatile organic compounds to pass through the respiratory system deep into the lungs and body. Also, natural gas is lighter than air and therefore rises up, concentrating nearer to the head. Associated narcotic symptoms like pneumonia, nausea, vomiting, irregular breathing, memory loss, fatigue, sinus and headache are also reported because of exposure to natural gas leak in lower concentrations. Some other side effects include flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, depression, itching in genitals and pain in hands and legs.

Methanethiol (methyl mercaptan) or Ethanethiol (ethyl mercapton) is the odorant that is intentionally added by gas companies to the natural gas to detect its leakage. When inhaled in sufficient amounts, ethanethiol causes physiological effects such as dizziness, headache, vomiting, shivering, fever and unconciousness.

Natural gas may also contain contaminants like PCBs, benzene, toluene and radon (Radon is present in natural gas in its original state). Benzene and toluene are present in the gas we inhale during gas leaks and pose serious health threats. PCBs, benzene and radon are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) while toluene may cause reproductive harm. 


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