McKenzie the superhero

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Top 10 rules for natural gas safety 

To play it safe around your home, remember these top ten rules for using natural gas the right way.

  1. A natural gas leak smells like rotten eggs or skunk like odor. If you smell it, get out of the house right away and find an adult. Natural gas is lighter than air, so it will rise and spread out across available spaces if not contained.
  2. Ask an adult to install a carbon monoxide detector. It works like a smoke detector to keep your family safe.
  3. Don't hang on pipes in the basement or play with the gas meter outside. The pipes might come loose, letting the gas escape. Remind adults to keep the outside meter clear of snow or plants in case of an emergency.
  4. Practice winter natural gas safety. Adults can take some steps to keep families safe during winter when natural gas furnaces see the most use. Before the heating season, have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances and all heating and venting equipment.

    Snow and ice can damage or block natural gas meters and exhaust vents for appliances, especially following a major snow storm. Chimneys and vents on the roof or side of a building must be clear to allow proper venting, which prevents accumulation of carbon monoxide or equipment malfunction. Adults should carefully remove snow or debris using their hands or a broom. Kicking or using a shovel could cause damage. Safely remove icicles from overhead eaves and gutters so dripping water does not splash and freeze on the meter or vent pipe. If you need help, contact a professional.
  5. Be careful using a gas stove. Roll up your sleeves, keep towels and hot pads away from the flame, and make sure an adult is around to help.
  6. Remind adults to call 811 before they dig. If you’re helping someone dig a hole, it’s very important to have underground utility lines marked before you start.
  7. DON'T pick up or move markers indicating a gas line. They are put there by professionals so your parents or construction workers know where they can and can't dig.
  8. DON'T ever try to use a gas appliance to keep warm. Using a gas appliance, like a stove, the wrong way can cause deadly carbon monoxide. If the power goes out, bundle up in layers of clothes instead.
  9. DON'T pile up boxes, paint or anything else around a gas appliance. Boxes, paint and other chemicals are a fire hazard, and appliances need oxygen to run properly, just like people need air to breathe.
  10. DON'T play around or try to move a gas appliance. The piping or connector that feeds gas to the appliance might get damaged or come loose. You can help adults keep little kids away from gas stoves and add safety covers on the knobs to prevent them from being accidentally turned on.

What's that smell?

Natural gas isn't dangerous when it's sealed tight inside pipes and used in the right way. When natural gas first comes out of the ground, you can't see it or smell it. That's why gas companies add a chemical, called mercaptan, which smells like rotten eggs or a skunk like odor, to the gas to make even the smallest leaks easy to notice.

The natural gas pipes underground and inside your house are designed to keep the gas safely inside. There are also rules for digging, building houses and using appliances to make sure accidents don't happen.

man pinching nose

Natural gas leaks

Luckily, natural gas leaks are rare. Fires and explosions are even more uncommon because the rotten egg or skunk like smell helps people get assistance quickly before anything bad happens.

The danger happens when natural gas leaks out. It is dangerous because natural gas is flammable, which means that if there's a flame or even a spark in the area of a leak, it could cause a fire or explosion.

A natural gas leak can happen if a gas pipe is damaged or a fitting is loose. The most common occurrence for a damaged natural gas pipeline is someone accidentally striking the underground gas pipeline with construction equipment or a shovel while digging a hole. Natural gas can also leak if a natural gas appliance, like a stove, water heater or furnace, isn't hooked up correctly.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas that you can't see or smell.

Too much carbon monoxide can occur when appliances that burn fuel aren't working right. It can also happen if a car is running inside a garage.

Carbon monoxide can make you very sick. If we breathe in carbon monoxide, it gets into our blood and stops the oxygen from getting to our brain.

If you're sick with carbon monoxide poisoning, it might feel like the flu:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Upset stomach, nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness 

Unlike the flu, with carbon monoxide poisoning you won't have a fever. Everyone in your family may feel sick at the same time and the symptoms might disappear when you leave the house.

You can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by reminding the adults in your house to use and test a carbon monoxide detector.

This device works like a smoke alarm. If it senses too much carbon monoxide in the air, it will make a loud beeping noise to warn you of the danger.

There are detectors for sale that include both a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector.

illustration of a smoke/carbon monoxide detector

What to do if a natural gas accident happens

Even when we're really careful, sometimes accidents happen. That's why it's so important to know what to do if there's a natural gas emergency.

If you smell a gas leak

A natural gas leak will usually smells like rotten eggs or a skunk-like odor. If something doesn't smell right, or if you hear a funny hissing noise, tell an adult right away.

If you if think the smell is natural gas, get out of the house as fast as you can and find an adult.

  • Don't stop to open windows or doors.
  • Don't touch anything that might create a spark, like a light switch or even a telephone.
  • Go to a neighbor's house and call 911.
  • Don't go back inside your house until the gas company or the fire department tells you it's safe.

If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off

If you have a carbon monoxide detector in your house, and the alarm goes off, tell an adult and leave the house right away.

An adult should call 911 or the gas company and have all the gas appliances inspected right away.

If someone is feeling really sick, go outside, call 911 and wait for help to arrive.