Methane is a colorless, highly flammable gas found in abundance in a variety of industries such as manufacturing and coal mining. Although methane is nontoxic, high concentrations of the gas can displace oxygen and prevent adequate ventilation in the workplace. Signs and symptoms of methane poisoning include confusion, convulsions and unconsciousness.
Methane Poisoning Overview
By itself, methane is not a toxic gas. However, it is extremely flammable and can easily cause an explosion. Methane can also cause death by asphyxiation if it leaks into an enclosed space and deprives a person of oxygen. Unfortunately, this happens quite often in homes and work places around the country.
The problem of ventilation is critical when natural gas (which is almost totally composed of methane) is burned at home or the work place. When natural gas is burned in boilers or heating radiators where there is an insufficient air supply, carbon monoxide (CO) is produced. CO is colorless, odorless, and extremely deadly. At 220 parts per million (ppm), the gas can produce severe headaches in less than an hour of exposure. At 1600 ppm, carbon dioxide produces nausea and dizziness. At 12,800 ppm, carbon monoxide can cause death in under three minutes.
Methane Poisoning Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of methane exposure may include:
- heart palpitations
- cognitive impairment (poor judgement, memory loss)
- loss of motor coordination
- flu-like symptoms (mental uneasiness, lethargy, discomfort)
Treatment for Methane Poisoning
If you are experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms, you should leave the area immediately and go to a wide-open space with fresh air. If you suspect there may be a leak in the building, open the windows to encourage proper ventilation. Fresh air should introduce an adequate amount of oxygen into your system to stave off most symptoms.
In the event that someone around you loses consciousness from methane poisoning, dial 911 immediately. Take the person outside and give them plenty of space. When the paramedics arrive, pure oxygen will be administered to offset the asphyxiation. The goal of treatment for methane poisoning is to remove the carbon monoxide from the hemoglobin in the blood, and to bring oxygen levels back to normal.
Methane Poisoning Prognosis (Outlook) & Complications
The long-term outlook for methane poisoning victims depends on the type and degree of exposure. Prognosis can be greatly improved by prompt and efficient treatment. People exposed to methane for long periods of time may end up with a variety of persistent complications. Epilepsy, pneumonia, memory loss, depression, claustrophobia, seizures, and heart problems have all been reported in patients suffering from methane poisoning.