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Workplace injuries from H2S exposure

As some Illinois workers in certain occupations know, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas with a distinctive odor akin to rotten eggs. This gas is corrosive, flammable, explosive and poisonous. It is formed naturally and is most prominent in oil, gas, pulp, chemical and paper operations. Companies are under regulatory rules to provide appropriate protection for workers.

H2S in ambient air has varying implications based on the gas concentration. For instance, a concentration of H2S between 45,000 and 450,000 parts per million may result in an explosion, while 1,000 to 2,000 ppm causes almost instant death if breathed in. Workers who breathe air with an H2S concentration of 700 to 1,000 ppm may collapse and die if not removed quickly. At 10 to 100 ppm, an unprotected worker may have throat and eye problems and headaches within one hour. Continual exposure may result in nausea, vomiting, coughing and dizziness.

Depending on exposure, certain respirators should be used. The maximum use concentration value assigned to respirators is calculated using exposure limits. If exposure is at 100 to 100,000 ppm, a self-contained breathing apparatus is needed. At 10 to 100 ppm, an air-purifying mask, an SCBA or a full-face mask cartridge is required. A respirator is not needed at a range of 0 to 10 ppm. Companies are urged to use such recommendations and perform testing according to specific aspects workers at the company's site might encounter to make sure the workers are protected.

A worker who suffers a workplace illness from exposure to toxic chemicals may be eligible for workers' compensation if the effects keep him or her away from work or if medical care is needed. An attorney may help the worker determine eligibility and assist in the filing process.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "Respiratory Protection in Extreme H2S Environments", Eric Dzuba, Feb. 1, 2015

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