What is hydrogen sulfide?
At low concentrations in the air, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, combustible gas that smells like rotten eggs. It is sometimes referred to as sewage gas, stench damp, and manure gas. It has a disgusting sweet odor at high concentrations. A person’s ability to detect the gas fades at exceptionally high levels, and they become ignorant of its existence. This syndrome, known as olfactory weariness, may also develop after lengthy exposure to hydrogen sulfide. Because hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, it may accumulate in low-lying and confined locations.
Hydrogen sulfide is formed in the environment by the bacterial breakdown or decomposition of dead plant and animal materials, mainly when there is a shortage of oxygen. It may be found in natural gas and petroleum that have not been processed, volcanic gases, sulfur deposits, hot springs, and wetlands. Beaches with many decomposing seaweed and mudflats with organic material trapped under the silt may release hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is created naturally in the human body and by human and animal waste.
Hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of industrial operations such as pulp and paper mills, rayon manufacture, food processing, tanneries and fur processing, and oil and natural gas refineries, and it is employed in creating various sulfur chemical compounds. The chemical formula for hydrogen sulfide is H2S.
How can I be exposed to hydrogen sulfide?
- Breathing in polluted air laced with hydrogen sulfide.
- People who reside near a wastewater treatment facility, a gas and oil drilling business, a farm with manure storage or animal confinement facilities, or a landfill may be exposed to elevated amounts of hydrogen sulfide.
- Workers exposed to more significant quantities of hydrogen sulfide may be found in petroleum and natural gas drilling and refining, wastewater treatment, rayon textiles, tanneries, landfills, and farms with manure storage pits.
- Mudflats may create low quantities of hydrogen sulfide due to oxygen-depleted organic material in the silt. Beaches with large volumes of rotting organic material, such as seaweed, have produced hydrogen sulfide issues.
- Hydrogen sulfide is a gas somewhat soluble in water and may be found in geothermal springs and certain marshes. Although hydrogen sulfide is uncommon in Washington, municipal drinking and well water may contain it.
- Bacteria in your mouth and gastrointestinal system create a tiny quantity of hydrogen sulfide. Some foods contain a lot of sulfur, notably plants in the onion family, like garlic.
How can hydrogen sulfide affect my health?
Hydrogen sulfide is an irritant and a chemical asphyxiant (it replaces oxygen, making it impossible to breathe). Some individuals can sense it in meager amounts, while others may not be able to smell it at all. Some persons are more sensitive to the possible impacts than others. Low quantities may irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
Asthmatics may have difficulties breathing. Concentrations in the moderate range might induce more severe ocular and respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Short-term exposure to high amounts of hydrogen sulfide may result in loss of consciousness, coma, and death.
A person exposed to hydrogen sulfide will usually recover entirely between hours to a few weeks, depending on the individual and the quantity of exposure. Some people have reported permanent or long-term side effects such as headaches, low attention span, impaired memory, and poor coordination. Long-term low-level hydrogen sulfide exposure may cause tiredness, lack of appetite, headaches, irritability, impaired memory, and dizziness.
- Hydrogen Sulfide ToxFAQs, ATSDR
- Hydrogen Sulfide, OSHA Fact Sheet (PDF)