Could I be brain-dead?
November 17, 2009 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Could I be brain-dead?

My girlfriend and I just discovered that the gas on her stovetop had been turned on (without a flame). We don't know how long it was on, but possibly up to 24 hours.

Considering that we're both alive and "together" enough to type this question, can we conclude that we're safe?
posted by scarylarry to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Assuming that the gas in question is natural gas or LPG, it's more or less nontoxic; the major risk from unburnt gas is that enough of it will collect to form an explosive mixture. I'm guessing you haven't exploded. You're fine. Also, if it took up to 24 hours to smell it, you won't have inhaled a toxic amount.
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you can't smell gas, you're probably okay. Open a window and don't light any flames for a bit.
posted by hwyengr at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2009

open the windows, air the place out....
posted by HuronBob at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2009

You'll be fine. Ventilate the area thoroughly.
posted by davey_darling at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2009

Basically all natural gas is adulterated with a foul-smelling odorant. If it was filling the rooms, you'd know.

Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, which is nontoxic. Aside from its flammability, the only way it can hurt you is by displacing oxygen from your lungs. It would have to be at a fairly high concentration to have a noticible impact. You would be feeling dizzy, tired, or lightheaded if this was the case.

Open a window and you'll be fine.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:16 PM on November 17, 2009

Well, setting aside the broader metaphysical question of how can one prove that one is actually 'alive' and interacting with an objective reality, versus say just hallucinating on the way out the door ... you're probably not dead.

Modern stove gas is significantly less deadly than old-school "manufactured gas" (coal gas). Coal gas was actually mostly carbon monoxide by volume, and often didn't have an odorant, so leaving it on would poison you fairly quickly. Modern gas is suffocating, but isn't poisonous in the same sort of way. You would probably smell the odorant and start to feel nauseous from lack of oxygen if there was a leak (as long as you weren't asleep).

I'd ventilate the house well, make sure you get a lot of fresh air, and then not worry about it except to make sure that it doesn't happen again. This is assuming you're not experiencing any neurological symptoms and are generally feeling fine now.

With modern stoves it's actually more of a concern if you leave the thing running (say running the oven with the door open continuously, as a space heater), because this will produce CO (although an efficiently-burning stove will produce mostly CO2 until the free O2 level drops below a certain point) and won't produce the telltale "gas leak" odor.

Just don't make a habit of it...
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:16 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I might be wrong on this but I seem to recall the big risk with natural gas is that if you have enough of it in an enclosed space it can interfere with your body getting enough oxygen when you breathe. Ventilate the room as well as possible and maybe go take a walk for an hour or so.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:17 PM on November 17, 2009

Someone worked on the gas line in my old apartment and didn't re-light the pilot lights on the stove afterward, meaning I was breathing some miniscule quantity of natural gas for a week and a half (in a building that was admittedly so full of holes as to be comical). No ill effects.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:21 PM on November 17, 2009

I agree with other posters, you're pretty safe. The big risk is CO, not the gas itself. The odorant is put in the gas at a high enough level that you should notice it long before there's a fire risk. CO is a poison, and results from improper combustion, but it doesn't sound like that's your risk here. If you can smell gas, open a window and call your gas utility. They have should folks who will come check things out 24-7.

I am a natural gas utility employee (though gas distribution and end-user safety is not my area of expertise).
posted by nickmark at 7:25 PM on November 17, 2009

Thanks, everyone, for your fast and informative responses! We both feel a lot less worried now.
posted by scarylarry at 7:34 PM on November 17, 2009

I had the gas guy at my place about six months ago to sort out a pilot light issue. He told me that the kind of natural gas "scenting" that they now use (Vancouver, BC) is so strong that, for there to be a genuine explosion risk, you'd be able to smell it from half a block away.
posted by philip-random at 7:41 PM on November 17, 2009

Once upon a time I was working in an office when people smelt such a strong smell of gas that the whole place was evacuated. It turned out that a tanker full of the odorant used for natural gas had ruptured 10 miles away up-wind. So - I am going to agree with those who are saying that the fact you have not noticed up until now is an indicator that levels probably did not get too bad.

If, however, you conclude that you are posting the AskMe while dead then M. Night Shyamalan can be contacted here.
posted by rongorongo at 3:01 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, many modern stove tops have an automatic cut off. Could you hear a hiss? If not, the cut off probably kicked in.
posted by smoke at 3:12 AM on November 18, 2009

It took until 6:12 for someone to mention this. Most household appliances have a thermocouple which allows gas to flow only if there is a flame. The thermocouple can sometimes fail, but it usually works.

And no mention of Descartes. (Shamalayan, shmeh.) "I think, therefore I am" alive.
posted by yclipse at 4:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

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