Many homes use natural gas for heat, hot water, and home appliances. Natural gas has no smell, which means a small leak would be impossible to detect. A hissing sound is not always present either. That’s why your utility company adds mercaptan, a harmless chemical, to the gas. Mercaptan smells like sulphur, or rotten eggs, to help you identify gas leaks. But you may not smell anything if the leak is very small.
Evacuate the area immediately if you experience the following:
- smell sulphur or something like rotten eggs
- hear a hissing or whistling sound near a gas line
- see a damaged connection to a gas line
- see a white cloud, blowing dust, or bubbles in standing water
- see plants that are dying or dead for no apparent reason
If you suspect a gas leak avoid touching electrical appliances or turning on anything that may cause a spark or fire. Instead, leave the building, leave the door open, and head to a safe location. There you can call 911, your local fire department, or gas company to report the leak.
Gas leaks change the amount of oxygen available. As you breathe in less oxygen, you may start to develop symptoms. If you or others in your family experience sudden and unexplained symptoms, there could be a gas leak in your home.
Here are the symptoms you should look for:
- eye and throat irritation
- breathing problems
- pale skin or blisters, which only occur if skin comes in contact with compressed or liquid gas
You may see the same symptoms in your pets if there is a gas leak. Extreme or high levels of exposure may also cause unconsciousness or death.
Other air contaminants can cause symptoms similar to those of gas leak poisoning. If there are no gas leaks, check for other indoor air contaminants such as carbon monoxide or mold.
Incompletely burnt gas can release carbon monoxide, another dangerous gas that can affect your health. If you use natural gas for heating or hot water, make sure to install a carbon monoxide detector in the home.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- nausea and dizziness
- chest or stomach pains
- vision problems
- loss of muscle control
If exposure continues, the skin turns pink and the lips bright red. In case of severe poisoning, the skin on the whole body turns red. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly.
What to do
Observe your symptoms as you leave the house or move between rooms. If you notice that headaches reappear after you return home, you are likely dealing with a gas leak or another type of air contaminant.
For mild gas odor, you should open up the windows, make sure pilot lights are off, and call your gas company. They’ll advise you on the next steps. You can also turn the gas meter off if you know how.
For strong gas odor or situations that cause symptoms, exit your home or leave the area immediately. Gas is extremely volatile. If you have had a leak in your home for a while, there is an increased risk of explosion.
Call the emergency number for your utility company. But make the call away from the area of the suspected gas leak. Phones can create sparks, which may ignite the gas. Also, head to the emergency room, or call an ambulance if your symptoms are severe.
Have a certified inspector visit your home right away if you notice being extra tired without a lifestyle or medical reason.
If a leak is detected (usually with an adjusted electronic gas analyzer meant for detecting), you will need to also have other gas burning appliances, pipeline valves, and other operating controls inspected.
Ideally, a house inspector will let you know when it’s safe to return. Even if the leak was only on the inside, you should also have someone inspect outside pipelines. Leaks that occur outside your home are equally dangerous.
While exposure to low levels of natural gas is not harmful, long-term exposure can affect your health. Burning natural gas produces nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. These chemicals can trigger respiratory problems, depression, and decrease the quality of your health. Talk to your doctor if you believe the gas leak is affecting your health.
Leaks can occur from oversights during gas line installation, or they can be a consequence of old pipelines and appliances. Have your appliances and pipelines inspected yearly.
The service is usually free of charge. One thing that you need to do if using gas is to educate yourself and your family about natural gas safety. Remember what to look for in case of a leak or if someone experiences gas poisoning symptoms.
While natural gas leaks are rare, they can happen both inside and outside of your home.
If you use gas burning appliances or use natural gas for heating, make sure to have yearly inspections. Gas leaks, while dangerous, are preventable.