The Bad Character(istics) of Gas

Oct. 28, 2011
Written as a first-person account from hydrogen sulfide, this tongue-in-cheek article about a day in the life of hydrogen sulfide and his friends methane, oxygen and carbon monoxide offers extremely valuable advice about the dangers of confined space and low-oxygen environments.

I am a byproduct of rotting organic material, which makes the sewer a perfect home for me. My friend, Methane, has a completely different agenda. He has a combustible attitude and is looking for something to set himself off. My other friend, O2 Deficiency, appears innocent, but he can boast he is the No. 1 killer in our gang. He has taken out more unsuspecting victims than any of us.

We all live together in the same place, but we don’t always hang out together. I like to lie low, creeping along the lower levels, while Methane likes to float up high. He particularly enjoys hanging out around the top of manhole covers, in hope that an unaware worker who’s removing the cover will provide him with the spark he needs to blow up.

Carbon Monoxide just kind of hangs around, while O2 Deficiency seems to be just about everywhere. Every now and then, another friend of mine, Chlorine, will appear without warning. He stinks like me but is about 20 times stronger and will drop a worker in his tracks.

Gas on the Attack

This sewer is our home and we do not like any intruders, especially the ones who are trying to remove us from our home. We wait for them to enter before we attack. We especially like the intruders who think that they can smell us. I smell awful, but don’t worry; you quickly will get used to my odor.

My friends Methane, Carbon Monoxide and O2 Deficiency have no smell at all. They love to lie in wait for unsuspecting intruders who think they can find my friends by smelling the air. What fun! Some of the intruders look around for us, as if they can see us. Can you believe that? Like any of us can be seen! One of our best features is that we are invisible and you will never, ever see us.

Oh look … here comes an intruder now. All my friends have left, so I will just lie down here alone and wait for him to get to my level. “Oh no!” I say to myself. “He has a gas detector and he can ‘see’ me with that thing.” But all is not lost. He is down here with me now and I can take him out before the detector gives me away.

Had he sampled for me prior to entry, he would have known better than to come down here. Now he will not have proper warning time. By the time the detector notices me, he will not be able to get up the ladder before I drag him back down with me. I win!

Gas’ Worst Enemy

One day, my buddies and I were hanging out at home. I was lying on the floor of the sewer while Methane was up top and O2 Deficiency was all over the place. All of a sudden the cover was removed and we poised for attack.

Instead of someone coming in, a small tube appeared at the top of our home. Methane called out, “I think he knows I’m here. I heard the workers say I was 11 percent LEL, and I know they won’t come in unless I am less than 10 percent LEL.”

The tube then dropped another 4 feet. “I know he got me,” said O2 Deficiency. “I heard them say I was 16.3 percent by volume and I know they are looking for levels higher than 19.5 percent.”

Then, another 4 feet down, I was caught lying on the bottom with my 50 ppm level, knowing that they are looking for less then 10 ppm. I was so sure that he would not discover my hiding place, but he sampled low enough, and the jig was up. All of us had been discovered.

Not only did we not get our victim that day, a huge hose appeared and we were evicted out of our home by a huge rush of clean air. We’ll have to find another sewer to call home.

O2 Deficiency had a good idea one day on how to hide Methane from those gas detectors. He figured that if he can make his concentration level low, to the point that he reaches in around 10 percent by volume of oxygen or less, then those gas detectors will not be able to see our friend Methane. It would have worked but then we discovered that they would not come in unless oxygen was above 19.5 percent. But they still did not see Methane. I guess low O2 levels make the combustible sensor not read very well.

Maybe the next time O2 Deficiency is that low, they will decide to come in with air packs to protect themselves from us, but Methane will still be up to his old tricks waiting on a source of ignition and maybe some extra air to get them.

Education is truly the best weapon against us. Someday, someone is going to educate these intruders on our characteristics and then we won’t have a chance to take them down. They will learn how to use their gas detectors to ensure that they always find us. They will be taught the proper protocol for what to do if we are found and how to drive us out of our home.

Until then, we will attack as many uneducated intruders as we can!

Brad Day is a product manager at Industrial Scientific. He can be reached at [email protected]. For information about Industrial Scientific, visit

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