What are the Dangers of a Gas Leak?

The carbon-hydrogen compound that is natural gas does not have any odor, but a sulfuric, "rotten egg" smell is often added to the gas by suppliers to alert homeowners of any gas leaks in their homes.

This precautionary measure is taken because there are hazards inherent to natural gas-if the levels are high enough, it can be fatal. Still, natural gas is frequently called one of the safest and cleanest-burning fuel sources there is. More than 65 million homes in the US use natural gas to power their stoves, water heaters, and other appliances. As long it's burned correctly, natural gas will not produce anything more than water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Natural gas produces fewer greenhouse emissions than the following fuels:

  • Wood
  • Coal
  • Oil

The reason that natural gas is used so commonly is that it's highly combustible. Small amounts of natural gas can produce large amounts of heat. For that same reason, however, a natural gas leak can very easily turn into a fire or an explosion.

A gas leak in your home can be extraordinarily dangerous, so you shouldn't take the threat lightly. There are some steps you should take immediately if you suspect you have a natural gas leak in your home.

What to Do if There is a Natural Gas Leak in Your Home

If you suspect there is a gas leak in your home, stop what you're doing immediately and get out of your home.

Do not:

  • Flip any electrical switches
  • Unplug anything
  • Use a telephone

Inhaling a high concentration of natural gas can lead to asphyxia, the symptoms of which include fatigue and chest pain. Asphyxia occurs when your body is deprived of oxygen, and the more carbon monoxide there is present in the air, the less oxygen you'll be able to inhale, which can potentially kill you. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 500 people in the United States die of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year.

What to Do if You Cannot Smell the Gas

A cold or stuffy nose can prevent you from being able to smell gas as it leaks into your home. And the chances of having dangerous levels of the gas in your home are actually pretty high.

If you have a gas stove in your home, there are about 5-15 parts per million of natural gas in your home's air. If that goes up to 30 parts per million, it can be extremely dangerous, and it can happen with just a faulty stove.

A natural gas detector or a carbon monoxide detector can alert you if the levels of natural gas in your home's air ever reach dangerous levels. You should always have these detectors installed in your home, and you should make sure that they're functional and that their batteries are always charged.

What to Do When You Smell a Gas Leak

If you smell a gas leak, do not ignore it! Call your gas company or 911 for help.

  • If you smell a leak near an appliance, it could be that the pilot light has gone out or a burner valve is open slightly. If you can find and fix the problem, it may be solved.
  • If you smell gas inside, contact your local gas company immediately. If the smell is strong, or if you are unsure of your safety, leave your home and then call the company. While you are waiting for the gas company to arrive, take these steps:
    • Keep everyone away from the area where the odor is.
    • Do not smoke or light nay matches.
    • Do not light any candles.
    • Do not flip any electrical switches.
    • Do not use a telephone.
    • Don't use the doorbell.
    • Don't adjust thermostats or any other appliance controls.
    • Put out all open flames.
  • If you smell gas outdoors, report them immediately. Do not attempt to locate the source on your own. Do not position or operate any vehicles near the source of the gas.
  • If you hear gas escaping, follow these steps:
    • Call your local gas company immediately from a neighbor's phone.
    • Do not go back inside your home until the gas company tells you it is safe.
    • Keep others away from the area.

Gas suppliers as well as many local plumbing contractors will provide 24/7 emergency service and they'll immediately respond to any of your concerns. They will not charge you for gas leak assistance.