• Why Is Methane Harmful?

Air Monitoring

Why Is Methane Harmful?

Mar 01 2022

A colourless and odourless gas composed of carbon and hydrogen molecules, methane is a naturally occurring element in our atmosphere. There are a variety of different sources of methane emissions which long predate human activity, such as wetlands, termites, forest fires and oceanic ebbs and flows.

However, concentrations of the gas have skyrocketed in the last couple of centuries. Today, modern methods of detecting methane reveal there is more than double the amount of the gas in our environment than there was prior to the Industrial Revolution. That’s due to the increasingly intensive industrial action taken by mankind, resulting in more and more emissions of methane.

Sophisticated monitoring techniques have allowed an insight into this unprecedented increase and innovative breakthroughs in research and development have even discovered new uses for the gas. Nonetheless, it still represents a major concern for governments, environmentalists and public health officials the world over. Why?

Climate change

First and foremost, methane is the second biggest contributor to global warming behind carbon dioxide. Although methane is far less prevalent than carbon in the atmosphere and persists for only a fraction of the time, it is much more potent as a greenhouse gas. According to some estimates, it’s up to 86 times more effective at retaining heat in the troposphere than CO2 over a 20-year period, which exacerbates global warming and contributes to unpredictable weather patterns.


As well as being environmentally detrimental in the long run, excessively high concentrations of methane can also be damaging for the planet in the short term, too. When it reacts with sunlight and certain other contaminants present in the air, it can create ground-level ozone. Not to be confused with stratospheric ozone, this pollutant is responsible for generating smog, inhibiting crop growth and adversely affecting all types of ecosystems.


Ozone is also harmful to human health, but so too is prolonged exposure to very high levels of methane alone. It deprives the body of oxygen, resulting in symptoms such as fainting, fatigue, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, impaired vision, mood swings and memory loss. In extreme cases, it can even cause convulsions and ultimately death. The most effective remedy for methane poisoning is removing the affected person to a well-ventilated environment with plenty of oxygen and contacting the emergency services.

Fire risk

Methane is highly flammable, meaning that an accumulation of the gas in a confined space can lead to a sizable inferno if exposed to a naked flame. Given that the gas is both colourless and odourless, it can build up without detection by the human eye or nose. As such, monitoring methane levels at factories, power plants and other industrial workplaces is imperative in guaranteeing the safety of all staff on site and preventing unnecessary accident, injury or damage to property.

To find out more about how methane emissions are monitored and kept under control, the Industrial Methane Measurement conference in Rotterdam in the Netherlands is a great source of information. Scheduled for the 8th and 9th June 2022, the event is open to all interested parties, who are invited to visit the link above to learn more.

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