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Poison Gas in Manistee County

What is H2S? How dangerous is it?

September 10, 1996 | By Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

In recent years, natural gas wells containing hydrogen sulfide have been drilled in residential neighborhoods in southern Manistee County. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a colorless, extremely toxic gas. Its hazards are comparable to cyanide.

At low concentrations H2S smells like rotten eggs. At higher concentrations it deadens the sense of smell, thereby increasing the risks to public safety by making it impossible to detect without special equipment. Very high concentrations of H2S can kill a person in a matter of seconds. The deep Niagaran rock formation, which is the primary source of natural gas in southern Manistee County, contains high concentrations of H2S.

The United States has set a safety limit in air for workers exposed to H2S of 10 parts per million (ppm). The Michigan Department of Public Health recommends an exposure limit in air for the general public of 1 ppm. Wells in southern Manistee County, including the City of Manistee and Filer Township, have H2S concentrations ranging from 100 ppm to 43,000 ppm.

Where The Threat Exists

Natural gas wells that contain high concentrations of H2S are located throughout the Manistee area. Industrial facilities to process the gas have been proposed. Pipelines would also be constructed, though their locations have not yet been disclosed. Such an extensive industrial infrastructure to pump, process, and move natural gas contaminated with H2S would thwart efforts to quickly evacuate the area in an emergency.

In Manistee Township, A Terrible Release Serves Warning

In August 1996, a release of 5,500 cubic feet of natural gas containing 900 ppm of poisonous H2S occurred in the Parkdale district of Manistee Township. The release, which occurred while workers were attempting to plug a well, caused several citizens in the neighborhood to lose consciousness and collapse. Eleven victims were treated at West Shore Community Hospital - at least one of them sustained serious lung damage. Others are still being treated for symptoms of asthma, skin irritations and neuropsychological problems.

Neither the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which regulates oil and gas development, nor the well's owner have publicly acknowledged the serious nature of the release.

Both the State and the company maintain that not enough H2S escaped to cause injury. To date, neither the DEQ nor the well owner have conducted a thorough investigation of the incident.

The Parkdale accident was the latest warning that new and proposed wells in Manistee County present an unacceptable risk to public health and safety. In the past decade, other injuries and evacuations have occurred in the Manistee area as a result of H2S releases. One accident in 1994 caused four children to be hospitalized.

The safety of the people in Filer Township, the City of Manistee, Manistee Township and other areas of Manistee County is at risk from natural gas wells that contain dangerous concentrations of H2S. The community's continued concerns about H2S are valid and urgent.

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