What Are the Dangers of Methane Gas?

Methane is a gas that remains in the atmosphere for up to 15 years. This greenhouse gas is produced by many natural and human-influenced sources. Landfills, coal mines and wastewater treatment, natural gas and petroleum facilities are only a few of the sources that emit this gas. It is more than 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. It is, however, an important energy source. Many companies in the United States are trying to reduce emissions of methane through management methods and technologies.

Asphyxiation

Methane is nontoxic on its own but can become lethal when it combines with another gas. Methane causes asphyxiation by displacing oxygen. It may produce symptoms of dizziness and headache, but these often go unnoticed until the brain signals the body to gasp for air. This happens too late, and the individual collapses. Because of the lack of oxygen, the result is usually death.

Explosion

Methane is extremely flammable and will easily cause explosions. It can leak unnoticed into structures and spaces, and a tiny spark can ignite the undetected gas. Explosions from methane gas are extremely strong, and the damage is devastating. The explosions associated with methane gas are not limited to the space that has the highest concentration, but anywhere it has seeped. It may be in one room, or it can travel through an entire city block.

Relation to Carbon Monoxide

Natural gas is 97 percent methane, and problems arise when there is an insufficient air supply available for ventilation. Carbon monoxide, a by-product of methane gas, is a clear, odorless, colorless, tasteless, non-irritating gas. It is, however, very deadly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, seizures, unconsciousness, rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure. Carbon monoxide attacks the central nervous system and may cause hallucinations and heightened emotions, sometimes causing the victim to have "supernatural experiences." Many times, the milder symptoms are mistaken for other things, such as flu, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and migraines. Many people suffer permanent heart damage after exposure to carbon monoxide, and as many as 500 people a year lose their lives to the gas.

Detection

Like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, methane detectors are available to alert you when dangerous gases are present. The audible alarm is a safeguard against poisoning from the deadly gas and from explosions that can result from methane leaks.

Considerations

Methane levels can vary from one area to another. It occurs naturally through sources such as wetlands, termites, freshwater bodies, oceans, permafrost and wildfires. The majority of natural methane emissions come from wetlands, with termites being the second-largest natural source.