The Importance of Methane Testing


What is Methane?

Having good indoor air quality in our homes and workplaces is something that many people can take for granted.  Methane, also known as “natural gas,” is a safety concern due to its colorless, odorless, and flammable properties, making it virtually undetectable to human senses.  Also known as one of the most common greenhouse gases, methane is generally needed for cooking, heating, fueling buses and cars, and is an essential source of energy for industrial processes. 


 Where does Methane come from?

Methane is the byproduct of the breaking down of organic materials over time.  Methane is theoretically safe when sourced from natural underground gas reserves. Still, there are several ways in which methane can pose a danger to the public.  Usually, methane originate in landfills, oil exploration sites, wetlands and swamps, and tar seeps. Without proper ventilation, methane can build up in an enclosed structure, resulting in an increased risk for explosion.


What happens when we are exposed to Methane?

Methane exposure poses a fairly low risk to the human body, but it can be highly flammable or even explosive if it accumulates at high concentrations inside a structure.  One such incident occurred in 1985 in Los Angeles, California at a Ross Dress-for-Less store. High concentrations of methane accrued beneath the structure and resulted in an explosion and fire, causing extensive property damage and injuries. The building happened to be located near leaking oil wells, which were believed to be the source of methane. This disaster brought to light the need for modern day methane safety regulations in the City of Los Angeles, beginning with the designation of Methane Zones and Methane Buffer Zones.


How can we protect ourselves?

Testing and mitigation requirements primarily apply to new construction projects occurring in Methane Zones.  Once levels of methane are assessed at the site and a methane certificate is issued by an authorized testing agency, signed by an architect, engineer, or geologist.

If zero to low levels of methane is detected on a property within a Methane Buffer Zone, Methane mitigation is not required.  If low to moderate concentrations are detected on a property that falls within a Methane Zone, passive mitigation systems, such as utility trench dams and cable or conduit seal fittings and methane barrier and passive ventilation systems, may be required.  Properties where methane is detected in significant concentrations may require active mitigation systems, which may consist of a methane barrier, ventilation system, methane sensors, and alarms that are hard wired directly to the local fire department.

It is fairly easy to identify if your home or business is located in a Methane Zone or Methane Buffer Zone.  If you live in a region that has a history of oil exploration, live near a landfill, swamp or marsh, chances are your risk of elevated methane may be higher.  If you are concerned about elevated methane risk, you can contact your local environmental consulting firm to do air samples in your building.

Dennis Ironi has been part of the environmental industry for more than a decade and is an experienced environmental professional recognized by the State of California as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS), a State Certified Radon Measurement Provider (RMP) as well as being a member of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Mr. Ironi has worked on more than four thousand indoor air quality projects for commercial, residential and industrial properties. Mr. Ironi has also performed and reviewed a wide variety of Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments, as well as Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program plan development and implementation for construction projects at Andersen Environmental.


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