Natural gas is a common fossil fuel source used for domestic and commercial purposes. The number of commercial, industrial, and residential natural gas users exceeds 76 million in the USA. Though this gas is highly flammable, it can be suitable and safe to use if gas appliances are installed correctly.
However, if gas appliances aren’t maintained and serviced regularly, gas leaks can occur. Prolonged exposure to gas leaks can degrade your health and cause you or other people to suffer complications or even death.
Conduct an Inspection of Your Gas Appliances
It’s mandatory that you get all your gas appliances, including gas meters, examined by a licensed gas safety engineer. If all of these appliances are operating properly, the safety engineer will appoint you a gas safety certificate. Otherwise, the engineer will conduct the required maintenance and repairs.
Before going into the health hazards, you should keep a lookout for signs of gas leaks occurring in your home or industry.
Signs Of Gas Leaks
Natural gas is actually an odorless and colorless gas. This nature makes it extremely difficult for people to notice gas leaks. Hence why utility companies have added a harmless chemical called mercaptan to natural gas; this is what gives natural gas a rotten egg smell, making it easier to discover gas leaks.
If you notice a rotten egg smell near your gas appliances or in any room, it could be a sign of a gas leak. Other indications of gas leaks include: –
- Hissing sound from gas pipes
- Bubbling water
- Higher gas bills than usual
- Dead Houseplants
- Sickness symptoms increase indoors when using gas heating systems and decrease outdoors
- Damaged gas pipes
If you notice any of these signs, get your building inspected immediately by a gas safety engineer. Switch off the mains gas supply and don’t use any electrical device including mobile phones inside the premises. Remember to evacuate people and pets.
Health Hazards of Gas Leaks
Gas leaks can occur at any moment due to faults in gas pipes or appliances. The wear and tear of gas appliances or pipelines may also cause such incidents. They can be extremely dangerous for people indoors if gas leaks occur. The risks of gas leaks include:-
1. Deadly Gas Explosions
Have you ever faced a situation that you notice a rotten egg-like smell when you enter your home? The chances are that it is a gas leak. Don’t turn on any electrical switch at this time. Its highly flammable nature is what makes this scenario extremely dangerous. A small spark provided by turning on or off of an electrical component can ignite the natural gas on the fire, and that fire won’t stop till it ignites the natural gas source.
The result of this would be a devastating explosion that can lead to the loss of innocent lives in your home or factory.
2. Increased Chances of Asphyxiation
Another danger of gas leaks is that they can cause breathing difficulties and affect mental and physical health. This is due to the shortage of oxygen indoors. Another problem is that gas leaks at low concentrations can be very hard to notice. This is why you should observe any changes in your or other people’s health when they enter and leave home or building.
Gas leaks at low or mild concentrations can cause flu-like symptoms, tiredness, fatigue, lightheadedness, irritation to the eyes and throat, and mood swings. Other symptoms include headaches, ringing in ears, nose bleeds, pale skin, or blisters if exposed to natural gas.
Pets can also be affected by gas leaks. Pet owners should look for symptoms that can affect their pets. These include:-
- Breathing difficulties
- Swollen eyes or watering
- Changes in behavior or mood
- Loss of appetite
Prolonged exposure to a high concentration of natural gas can cause suffocation, which leads to asphyxiation. Asphyxiation is a shortage of oxygen in the blood, which can lead to unconsciousness or even death of both humans and pets.
3. Poisoning from Toxic Emissions
The above-mentioned symptoms caused by gas leaks can also occur due to harmful emissions from gas appliances into homes or buildings. This can occur because of blockage in flue systems, or your gas appliances don’t vent out exhaust gases properly. These emissions include carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide gas.
4. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When natural gas goes under incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide is produced. This gas is called a silent killer as it’s odorless and colorless. If you use natural gas for heating systems indoors, check that nobody has the following symptoms: –
- Breathing difficulties
- Nausea or Lethargy
- Chest pains
- Loss of muscle control
- Pink skin or bright red lips
If the above-mentioned symptoms do show up, get your relatives or staff members to the hospital. Long exposure to CO can cause death. The CDC reports that around a total of 5419 people in the US died due to accidental CO poisoning between 1999 and 2010.
5. Nitrogen Dioxide Poisoning
Nitrogen dioxide is another byproduct of the combustion of natural gas. In low concentrations, this gas is colorless and odorless but harmful. In high concentrations, it has a reddish-brown color and a sharp smell.
Low concentrations of nitrogen dioxide can irritate the respiratory tract, eyes, nose, and throat. Prolonged exposure is harmful to the respiratory system and can cause symptoms such as:-
- People with asthma are more vulnerable to lung infections.
- Acute or chronic bronchitis
- Increased susceptibility to lung infections in children
- Inflammation of airways in healthy people.
If you suspect any of the above-mentioned hazards while using your gas heating systems, follow these precautions.
- Switch off your gas heaters and open all doors and windows.
- Don’t switch on/off any electrical component or use mobile phones inside the building.
- Evacuate staff, loved ones, and pets outdoors.
- Call or rush to a nearby hospital to get a checkup for carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide poisoning.
- Get your gas heating or cooking systems serviced by a gas safety engineer.
- Check that all ventilation systems are unblocked.
- Install CO detectors.
While using your gas appliances, remember to get them serviced at least once a year. In case gas leaks do occur, follow the precautionary measures to prevent any health complications within your employees or relatives.