Hydrogen sulphide is dangerous; the stench of rotten eggs

For anyone who ever threw stink bombs as a child, the odour of rotten eggs is unmistakeable. The gas that causes this stench is hydrogen sulphide, otherwise known as H2S. Every now and then, hydrogen sulphide finds its way into the news. Our respiratory protection expert Jan Willem de Winter is therefore asked how hazardous this gas is to people on a regular basis. He explains that there isn’t actually an unambiguous answer to this.

H2S waarschuwing

Hazardous and even fatal

H2S or hydrogen sulphide is a colourless gas. The typical stench of rotten eggs is a nuisance, but H2S is an assassin. It is very hazardous and can even be fatal. That gives you an idea straight away about how to deal with exposure. There are many aspects you need to take into account when this gas is released into the air in an uncontrolled manner.

Complaints are not an allergic reaction

H2S stimulates the nerve endings, causing complaints such as nausea, headache, dizziness and tears. When an incident occurs, it is sometimes suggested that these complaints are the results of an allergic reaction, but that’s not true. They are not the result of an allergic reaction as is the case with dust mites, hay fever or pets, for example. Anyone can develop these complaints.

Damage to health

If you remove the exposure to H2S, the complaints will disappear too, at least in the case of an exposure that lies under the set limits. These are the difficulties when it comes to answering the question whether H2S is a hazardous gas. After all, the limits set for H2S are values to which employees may be exposed. Up to these limits, which are set by experts, it is assumed that no harm is being caused to health, but that is for a “normal work process” of 40 hours per week.

Effects of exposure

Work is usually 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week and is often carried out your entire working life (40+ years). In determining the limits, the body’s capacity to recover if no longer exposed is taken into account. That is therefore the time after working hours. The effects of repeated exposure are also taken into account. Over time, a little bit of exposure every day can be much more harmful than a higher exposure occasionally. That is the effect of exposure x frequency.

Consequences of continuous exposure unknown

What consequences does it have on people’s health in the event of continuous exposure at a level under the limit? This has not been investigated or has not been investigated sufficiently. It continues to be very difficult to compare the data for working safely with chemicals, in which the limits for H2S have been named. After all, these are based on a work situation.

What to do in the event of an odour of rotten eggs

If you have noticed the odour of rotten eggs, it’s very likely that you are being exposed to hydrogen sulphide, H2S. What to do in such a situation

The internet and social media are a fast source of information. It is a good idea to follow the news broadcast by well-known organisations, such as the regional broadcasting service and official organisations. Don’t simply rely on announcements made by strangers.

What to do if you are unable to find any information

Take your own appropriate measures. Close windows and doors and stay indoors, or seek shelter elsewhere until you are sure you’re safe. Nothing is worth risking your health or making it part of a discussion. But neither should you flee in blind panic either. Trust the authorities who will do everything they can to provide you with correct information. Follow the instructions and, above all, never go looking for danger.

Stupid and dangerous

Unfortunately, there are many examples where authorities cordon off an area using cordon tape, for example. There are always curious types who cross the cordons and simply go looking for danger because they think that they should be informed and want to evaluate the severity of the situation for themselves. You won’t be the first person to come across someone taking a selfie at a place that has been cordoned off. That is downright stupid and dangerous.

H2S is also sometimes referred to as an assassin, please read why here.

Want to find out more about limits? Go to Arboportaal.nl.

Need advice?

Do you have questions about safety in the workplace in combination with H2S. Or can we help you with something else? Please contact us. Call 088 – 130 60 30 or use the contact form below.

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