Environment
3:58 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Gas Leaks: What You Need To Know

Tuesday evening’s tragic explosion and fire on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City may have some asking basic questions about gas leaks.

Here’s a brief primer:

How do I know if I have a gas leak?

  • If it’s a natural gas leak, you will smell it.

It’s an unpleasant smell, like rotten eggs.

Natural gas goes through a lot of processing before it can be used as fuel.

After all the other chemicals are taken out, what’s left is methane.

Methane is odorless.

Processors add something to make it stink just so you will know if there is a leak.

  • You might be able to see the effect of a gas leak.

Brown patches of grass or dying vegetation can be caused by an underground gas leak.

What causes gas leaks?

  • Aging appliances.  Many household appliances -- dryers, water heaters, and stoves -- use natural gas. Seals around pipes can deteriorate and cause leaks.  This is particularly hazardous in appliances that use a spark to ignite the gas.
  • Wear and tear.  A web of underground piping distributes gas to homes or businesses from an outside source. These pipes also deteriorate with age; seals corrode and breaks occur.
  • Accidental breach of pipes from construction, repairs, etc.
  • Faulty installation of appliances.
  • Bad Ventilation. Carbon monoxide, a by-product of the burning process, is invisible, which makes it extremely dangerous if not detected quickly.
  • Earthquakes, tornadoes, natural disasters can cause a gas line break.

If you think there could be a leak, do not:

  • light a match or lighter
  • use a hammer or any other tool that could make a spark
  • flip any switches
  • smoke
  • burn a candle
  • talk on the telephone

Find more coverage of the Plaza fire from KCUR here.