As the weather turns cold and the nights get longer, most of us like to get warm and cozy indoors by finally cranking up the heat. However, with the use of natural gas in some of our home's heating systems, there are some precautionary measures and potential dangers to avoid.
The largest concern and most imminent danger when switching on your gas heat is the possibility of fire. However, the National Fire Protection Association says the modern gas furnace is much safer than electric space heaters and furnaces because they are built to such high safety standards. While this security provides reasoning for updating your current or outdated system, there are still health risks with having natural gas in the home.
Natural gas is a fossil energy source that is formed deep beneath the earth's surface. We use it as fuel and to make materials and chemicals. Made up of many different compounds, natural gas contains a large component of methane and smaller amounts of carbon dioxide.
The American Lung Association reports, “Approximately 430 people die each year from carbon dioxide exposure related to fuel-burning, residential appliances. Thousands more reported being ill and required medical attention. Carbon dioxide poisoning is estimated to cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year in the United States."
While the use of natural gas is inherently safer than other options, a natural gas leak is obviously not. A leaking gas line is something that should never be left unattended as it can ultimately result in unintended consequences.
A gas leak in a home is highly dangerous because it can build into an explosive concentration, making the air extremely flammable and toxic. Natural gas leaks can kill vegetation and trees, cause explosions and fires, and potentially release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As it applies to those exposed, a natural gas leak could result in natural gas poisoning.
Leaking gas is not always easy to detect, but natural gas does have several warning signs. Use your senses to detect potential risks in your home:
- Smell: Because an odorant called “mercaptan” is added to natural gas to help you detect its presence, the best sign of a natural gas leak is if you smell something similar to rotten eggs.
- Sound: Listen for any unusual hissing or roaring sound.
- Sight: Look for dirt blowing into the air, persistent bubbling in standing water, or discolored or dead vegetation around the pipeline area.
In the event you think you smell, see or hear any of these signs of natural gas, leave the home, building or vicinity immediately and call your natural gas utility or a plumber right away. You may be able to turn off the gas yourself, but the main supply line will require the assistance of a licensed plumber.
According to the American Lung Association, many symptoms of gas poisoning are similar to the flu or food poisoning, meaning you may not suspect carbon dioxide poisoning at first. If symptoms persist, and especially if they get better after you leave the building, your natural gas lines may be the cause.
Breathing higher levels of carbon dioxide causes flu-like symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and weakness in healthy people. Breathing carbon dioxide at low levels regularly may cause permanent mental or physical problems. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, monitor any changes inside and outside the home. If these signs improve while outside your home, be prepared to consult medical professionals: Headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, confusion, disorientation, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, impaired vision, or impaired coordination.
If you have experienced medical problems due to natural gas poisoning, you may be able to take legal measures. If a defective product has taken the life of a family member or injured you in some way, you should consider seeking the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney to properly handle the matter.