Author(s): Guidotti TL
Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is the primary chemical hazard in natural gas production in 'sour' gas fields. It is also a hazard in sewage treatment and manure-containment operations, construction in wetlands, pelt processing, certain types of pulp and paper production, and any situation in which organic material decays or inorganic sulphides exist under reducing conditions. H2S dissociates into free sulphide in the circulation. Sulphide binds to many macromolecules, among them cytochrome oxidase. Although this is undoubtedly an important mechanism of toxicity due to H2S, there may be others H2S provides little opportunity for escape at high concentrations because of the olfactory paralysis it causes, the steep exposure-response relationships, and the characteristically sudden loss of consciousness it can cause which is colloquially termed 'knockdown.' Other effects may include mucosal irritation, which is associated at lower concentrations with a keratoconjunctivitis called 'gas eye' and at higher concentrations with risk of pulmonary oedema. Chronic central nervous system sequelae may possibly follow repeated knockdowns: this is controversial and the primary effects of H2S may be confounded by anoxia or head trauma. Treatment is currently empirical, with a combination of nitrite and hyperbaric oxygen preferred. The treatment regimen is not ideal and carries some risk.