Water is vital to our daily lives, both for personal and domestic use and industrial/commercial applications making water sites both numerous and widespread. Despite the quantity and location of water sites, only two environments predominate, and these are quite specific. They are clean water and wastewater. This blog details gas risks encountered at wastewater sites and how they may be mitigated.
The wastewater industry is always wet, with temperatures between 4 and 20oc near the water and rarely far from that limited temperature range even away from the immediate location of the wastewater. 90%+ relative humidity, 12 +/- 8oc, atmospheric pressure, with multiple toxic and flammable gas hazards and the risk of oxygen depletion. Gas detectors must be chosen to suit the specific environment in which they operate, and whilst high humidity is generally challenging to all instrumentation, the constant pressure, moderate temperatures and narrow temperature range is a far greater benefit to safety instrumentation.
The main gases of concern in wastewater treatment plants are:
- Hydrogen sulphide
- Carbon dioxide
- Reduced levels of oxygen
Hydrogen sulphide, methane and carbon dioxide are the by-products of the decomposition of organic materials that exist in the waste flows feeding the plant. The build-up of these gases may lead to the lack of oxygen, or in some cases, explosion when coupled with a source of ignition.
Hydrogen sulphide (H2S)
Hydrogen sulphide is a common product of the biodegradation of organic matter; pockets of H2S can collect in rotting vegetation, or sewage itself, and be released when disturbed. Workers in sewerage and wastewater plants and pipework can be overcome by H2S, with fatal consequences. Its high toxicity is the main danger of H2S. Prolonged exposure to 2-5 parts per million (ppm) H2S can cause nausea and headaches and bring tears to the eyes. H2S is an anaesthetic, hence at 20ppm, symptoms include fatigue, headaches, irritability, dizziness, temporary loss of the sense of smell and impaired memory. Severity of symptoms increase with concentration as nerves shut down, through coughing, conjunctivitis, collapse and rapid unconsciousness. Exposure at higher levels can result in rapid knock down and death. Prolonged exposure to low levels of H2S may cause chronic illness or can also kill. Because of this, many gas monitors will have both instantaneous and TWA (Time-Weighted Average) alerts.
Methane is a colourless, highly flammable gas that is the primary component of natural gas, also referred to as biogas. It can be stored and/or transported under pressure as a liquid-gas. CH4 is a greenhouse gas that is also encountered in normal atmospheric conditions at a rate of approximately 2 parts per million (ppm). High exposure can lead to slurred speech, vision problems and memory loss.
The normal concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere is approximately 20.9% volume. In the absence of adequate ventilation, the level of oxygen can be reduced surprisingly quickly by breathing and combustion processes. O2 levels may also be depleted due to dilution by other gases such as carbon dioxide (also a toxic gas), nitrogen or helium, and chemical absorption by corrosion processes and similar reactions. Oxygen sensors should be used in environments where any of these potential risks exist. When locating oxygen sensors, consideration needs to be given to the density of the diluting gas and the “breathing” zone (nose level).
Risk assessment is critical, as you need to be aware of the environment that you are entering and thus working in. Therefore, understanding the applications and identifying the risks regarding all safety aspects. Focusing on gas monitoring, as part of the risk assessment, you need to be clear on what gases may be present.
Fit for purpose
There is a variety of applications within the water treatment process, giving the need to monitor multiple gases, including carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, chlorine, methane, oxygen, ozone and chlorine dioxide. Gas detectors are available for single or multiple gas monitoring, making them practical for different applications as well as making sure that, if conditions change (such as sludge is stirred up, causing a sudden increase in hydrogen sulphide and flammable gas levels), the worker is still protected.
European Commission Directive 2017/164 issued in January 2017, established a new list of indicative occupational exposure limit values (IOELVs). IOELV are health-based, non-binding values, derived from the most recent scientific data available and considering the availability of reliable measurement techniques. The list includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, manganese, diacetyl and many other chemicals. The list is based on Council Directive 98/24/EC that considers the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents in the workplace. For any chemical agent for which an IOELV has been set at Union level, Member States are required to establish a national occupational exposure limit value. They also are required to take into account the Union limit value, determining the nature of the national limit value in accordance with national legislation and practice. Member States will be able to benefit from a transitional period ending at the latest on 21 August 2023.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that each year several workers will suffer from at least one episode of work-related illness. Although, most illnesses are relatively mild cases of gastroenteritis, there is also a risk for potentially fatal diseases, such as leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) and hepatitis. Even though these are reported to the HSE, there could be significant under-reporting as there is often failure to recognise the link between illness and work.
Elimination of these gas hazards is virtually impossible, so permanent workers and contractors must depend on reliable gas detection equipment to protect them. Gas detection can be provided in both fixed and portable forms. Our portable gas detectors protect against a wide range of gas hazards, these include T4x, Clip SGD, Gasman, Tetra 3, Gas-Pro, T4 and Detective+. Our fixed gas detectors are used where reliability, dependability and lack of false alarms are instrumental to efficient and effective gas detection, these include Xgard, Xgard Bright and IRmax. Combined with a variety of our fixed detectors, our gas detection control panels offer a flexible range of solutions that measure flammable, toxic and oxygen gases, report their presence and activate alarms or associated equipment, for the wastewater industry our panels include Gasmaster.
To find out more on the gas hazards in wastewater visit our industry page for more information.