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Warning: Methane is an asphyxiate gas that can be deadly

March 20, 2011

Methane gas is odorless and colorless, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. It is an inert gas and lighter than air, about 55% the weight of air. The ignition temperature of methane gas is about 1,000¢ªF–a spark. When methane gas combusts in an open space it burns; when it combusts in an enclosed space it explodes.  Methane is also an asphyxiate gas. An asphyxiate gas is a non-toxic or minimally toxic gas which dilutes or displaces the oxygen containing atmosphere leading to death by asphyxiation (suffocation) if breathed long enough.

A recent article in Popular Science Magazine (March 2011) helps the average person visualize how deadly asphyxiate gases, like methane, can build up in a confined area.  In this case, the asphyxiate gas had built up in a small drainage tube in a manure plant. Read more.  An interesting point the author makes in the article is how the behavior of these gases is very much like that of liquid. Layers of gases form different densities that are as dense as water— to be able even float boats (as the picture below points out).

The article starts with a very sad story about loss of life due to methane gas asphyxiation–in a business or industry situation.  Business or home, its imperative that the public (in general) become more educated on the dangers of all asphyxiate gases.  Historically, certain industries and geographies had to simply deal with how to get around or avoid specific asphyxiate gas issues.  The good news is that are now many ways to detect and mitigate these gases to be able to create or re-create livable and safe spaces to work and play.

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