Many people have been concerned if natural gas leaks at home are dangerous. When asking the question, “Is natural gas safe?”, the Georgia Public Service Commission states emphatically, “Yes!”. Yet there are natural gas precautions against asphyxiation and fires. So why is natural gas classified as safe? While many substances and activities are deemed safe, even the safest have resulted in health issues and death. This is especially true when systems and equipment that control these substances break down.
Take sleeping for example. Is sleeping in a bed unsafe? The Atlantic pointed out that you are 26 times more likely to die from “falling out of bed than gas explosions.” While 450 die in the United States each year from falling out of bed, only 17 people die from natural gas pipeline leaks. I don’t think we are ready to classify going to bed as dangerous. Likewise, natural gas would not be classified as dangerous.
Another good example is water. No one would say that water is unsafe. However, when ventilation is insufficient in a humid environment, or a pipe leak causes standing water, problems occur. Black mold can grow and result in serious health concerns. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), dampness and mold in the home cause 4.6 million cases of asthma in the United States alone.
Natural Gas Safety
That clarified, proper safety precautions should always be in place for any fuel, even safe ones such as natural gas. With natural gas, three main hazards could result due to a leak or accumulated exhaust:
- Asphyxiation: Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is considered biologically inert and non-toxic. However, it does replace the normal atmospheric oxygen. Too much displacement can lead to feeling light-headed, dizzy, headaches, or even death by asphyxiation. Most people would be repulsed by the intense rotten egg smell before this happened, but special care should be used in homes of the elderly, infirmed, and children.
- Toxicity: Natural gas does contain small amounts of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. These are very minute and usually considered too minimal to be a danger. Thus, natural gas is generally classified as non-toxic. However, some people are more sensitive to carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide than others, and accumulation could happen if not adequately ventilated.
- Fire or explosion: com notes that natural gas has a “very limited range of flammability.” If a flame is very near the source of the leak, it could ignite the gas at the leak. Also, if the gas leak accumulates due to a large leak and no ventilation, it could result in an explosion.
Signs of Natural Gas Leaks at Home
The most obvious sign of a natural gas leak is the sulfuric rotten egg smell. Have you ever wondered why natural gas smells like rotten eggs? Check out our article on Natural Gas Smell in the House to get the explanation. When you smell that rotten egg smell in your house, we are going to presume you already know you don’t actually have rotten eggs, but that it’s a gas leak.
But the bad odor is not the only sign you should be on the watch for. Here is a bullet list from UGI EnergyLink of other signs of a gas leak to be aware of:
- Hissing, roaring or whistling from natural gas appliances
- Damaged gas appliance fuel lines
- Dead vegetation above the gas pipe leading to your house
- Unusual soil movement or water bubbling
- A natural gas pipeline is exposed after a flood, fire or earthquake
What to Do If Your House Smells Like Gas
So what should you do if you smell gas in your home, or you see or hear other tail-tell signs of a gas leak? UGI EnergyLink also provided a list that outlines the steps to be taken:
- Don’t do anything that could cause a spark, like flipping a switch, unplugging devices or using a phone.
- Put out anything currently burning. Snuff out cigarettes and blow out candles. Don’t light a match, a stove, or cigarette lighter.
- Let fresh air in. Open windows and doors.
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter. Keep it off until deemed safe to turn back on.
- Stand a safe distance away from your home and call 911 and your gas provider.
It is always best to check with your natural gas provider, and make sure you follow their safety advise and gas leak protocol. This will ensure you are properly protected from a disaster.
Who Do You Call for a Gas Leak?
If you have a natural gas smell in the house, you need to be ready with whom to call. If you smell gas in the home, that rotten egg smell, you probably have a leak, and you should not ignore it. As mentioned above, there are two numbers you should call. First and foremost, call 911. They will direct you with immediate actions for your safety and alert any life-safety personnel that may be required.
Secondly, call your gas provider. They will walk you through any actions you can take to stop the leak and mitigate the risk immediately. They will also verify that you have taken proper steps to ensure your safety.
Natural gas has made a very positive impact on many of our lives, saving energy costs and reducing pollutants from wood fireplaces. Keeping these safety reminders in mind will allow us to enjoy this natural resource safely. We at Milestone Companies are happy to contribute to the natural gas distribution network and to overall natural gas safety through safe work practices and public safety reminders such as this article.