Methane is a natural gas, and when it is burned, carbon dioxide and water are produced as by-products. It only burns when oxygen is present, and because methane is quite clean while burning, it is an attractive source of fuel. However, if it is not burned, methane gas can be poisonous to humans.
One can be exposed to methane gas in three different ways. The first is inhalation when methane gas subtly gets into our home or office. It can do so through the building foundation cracks or via sewer traps, especially if the building is located near a landfill. You may also unknowingly inhale harmful methane gas when passing farm waste pits, sewers, or closed septic tanks. Methane gas is harmful and can be hiding in your very kitchen with rotting food, in your garden with compost piles, and it can also come from waste water treatment plants.
Another way to get methane gas poisoning is via ingestion. Although this is a rare possibility, it should still be taken into consideration. Methane gas that is naturally created has been known to get into natural water reservoirs. Children sometimes eat soil or dirt, and may ingest trace of methane along with it! Of course, the ingestion exposure level is quite low and there should not even be any visible effects on your body, but this does not make methane gas less harmful overall.
Methane gas poisoning may also occur via touch, although the possibility of this is extremely low as well. It is difficult for methane to penetrate the skin but if it does, the body usually disposes of it through urine or respiration. So, very small doses of it are generally OK.
There are many methane recovery systems now installed in landfills, which reduce about 50 percent of the emissions into the atmosphere. Sometimes the methane that is recovered is flared off, which produces carbon dioxide – a much less powerful greenhouse gas. The methane recovery systems also serve as a source of energy that is economically viable, with the methane that is collected being used to generate electricity. Emissions may also be reduced by up to 90 percent if special liners under landfills are used in order to prevent leakage into groundwater nearby.
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