When installed and used correctly, natural gas is safe and convenient. But gas leaks can occur. These leaks can lead to physical symptoms and, in some cases, the gas can cause carbon monoxide poisoning in people and animals.
According to the American Gas Association, over 73 million residential, commercial, and industrial premises in the United States use natural gas. It is highly flammable, and gas leaks increase the risk of fire and explosion.
If people suspect a gas leak, it is essential that they evacuate the area immediately, and call 911, the local fire department, or the utility company's emergency line.
In this article, learn about the signs and symptoms of a gas leak and what to do if a gas leak occurs in the home.
Small gas leaks may not have a smell or other physical signs. However, if there is a gas leak in the home, a person may notice:
- the smell of sulfur or rotten eggs
- a hissing or whistling sound near a gas line
- a white cloud or dust cloud near a gas line
- bubbles in water
- a damaged gas pipe
- dead houseplants
Also, gas bills may be higher than normal, as gas will be escaping from gas lines or appliances into the house.
A reduction in the amount of oxygen in the air causes gas leak symptoms. These can include:
- breathing difficulties
- fatigue or drowsiness
- feeling lightheaded
- flu-like symptoms
- irritation to the eyes and throat
- mood changes, including depression
- pains in the chest
- pale skin or blistering, following direct contact with gas
- reduced appetite
- ringing in the ears
Pets will likely also be experiencing symptoms in the event of a gas leak. Pet owners should look out for signs of:
- breathing difficulties
- changes in mood or behavior
- loss of appetite
- sore throat
- red or watering eyes
Very high levels of gas may cause unconsciousness or even death in pets.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can lead to symptoms similar to those caused by a gas leak. Carbon monoxide is emitted when gas burns incompletely.
Exposure to CO can be fatal and requires emergency medical treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5,149 people died from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. between 1999 and 2010.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include:
- abdominal pain
- chest pain
- loss of muscle control
- pink skin and bright red lips
If there is a gas leak, it is vital to do the following:
- ensure all people and pets are evacuated from the house immediately
- leave the doors open and immediately call 911, the local fire department, or the utility company's emergency number
- do not make the call from within the house, as this action may ignite the gas
Symptoms of a gas leak in both people and animals require medical treatment. In cases of severe symptoms, someone should call an ambulance or go directly to the hospital's emergency department.
If a gas leak is suspected but not confirmed, they should do the following:
- Take note of symptoms when entering or leaving the house. Symptoms that return when entering the home may indicate a gas leak, carbon monoxide poisoning, or another air contaminant, such as mold.
- If a mild gas smell is present, turn off the gas pilot light immediately. Open all the windows and call the utility company from outside the house. They will likely have a certified inspector assess the situation.
In the event of a gas leak or suspected gas leak, NEVER:
- use a phone inside the home
- search for the source of the leak
- attempt to repair the leak
- switch lights or household appliances on or off
- use lighters, candles, matches, or other sources of ignition
- keep doors and windows closed
- allow the situation to go unreported
A gas leak is usually confirmed by a certified inspector, using a device called an adjusted electronic gas analyzer. The inspector will also check appliances and outside gas lines for faults and leaks.
Once the leak has been located and repaired, it is essential to:
- wait until officially notified that it is safe to return to the home
- air out the house before going back inside
- install carbon monoxide alarms
The symptoms of a gas leak do not typically affect health if exposure was low and the leak was addressed quickly. However, long-term exposure may result in physical symptoms that persist, such as:
- other mood-related problems
- respiratory problems
Therefore, it is essential to consult a doctor after a gas leak has occurred, especially if a person notices long-term effects. Symptoms may improve or resolve with the proper treatment.
Most gas leaks are preventable by taking the following steps:
People should learn about gas leak symptoms and signs and remember to teach family members and children about natural gas safety.
Everyone in the home should know what to do if a gas leak is suspected or confirmed.
Schedule regular inspections
Ensure that all gas-burning appliances and gas pipelines are inspected every year by a certified inspector. This service is usually free of charge.
A certified professional should also inspect furnaces, chimneys, flues, and vents.
Ensure adequate ventilation
The areas around gas-burning appliances and gas equipment should be kept unobstructed. This is to prevent natural gas from building up in these areas.
It is also helpful and healthy to regularly air out of the house.
Install carbon monoxide detectors
These devices look like smoke alarms and emit a loud sound if carbon monoxide is detected. There should be a detector on every floor of the house and in all bedrooms.
Keep a fire extinguisher on site
Gas leaks are highly flammable, and natural gas can be ignited by a spark or even by making phone calls. React quickly to fires in the home by having at least one multipurpose fire extinguisher on site.
All flammable materials and household chemicals, such as cleaning supplies and paints, should be stored far away from gas appliances and gas lines.
Natural gas leaks cause physical signs and symptoms in both people and animals. Although these leaks are rare, ongoing exposure to natural gas can be hazardous and have lasting effects.
It is essential that people are educated about natural gas safety and are aware of the signs of gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Many steps can be taken to prevent gas leaks and their complications, including scheduling yearly inspections and installing carbon monoxide detectors.