Gassed Up
September 30, 2015 4:21 PM   Subscribe

To preface: I'm acutely aware that I'm an idiot for not immediately calling the fire department, but I came home to discover that the gas was on. Should I be heading to the hospital?

I came home and got immediately hit with the thick smell of natural gas. I opened all windows, all doors, and turned off our AC unit and anything that may use the heater in the basement. Someone left our gas stove on, with the flame setting at low, but the gas ran out so there weren't any flames when I got there. Upon confrontation via text, I learned that the stove had been left on for at least 4 hours. No one was home at the time. Also, neighbors are fine.

But that was 2 hours ago. I feel this weird pressure in my head and chest. Also I'm feeling way more relaxed than I perhaps should be.

Should I be running to a hospital, or should I just stay outside for a few hours? I'm aware that I'll probably just get oxygen therapy if I'm admitted at all, but I would be concerned if staying leads to actual acute CO2 poisoning with long-term cognitive effects.
posted by Ashen to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go outside and call a local urgent care center. Google "[your town] urgent care". If you can't find one of those, call the hospital. They usually have people answering 24/7. They can assess the situation better than we can and tell you where to go for help.
posted by ignignokt at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, after you are taken care of medically, call the gas company. They'll test whether it's safe to return.
posted by ignignokt at 4:36 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have insurance, your insurance company probably has a 24/7 advice nurse line too.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:36 PM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure I understand exactly what happened: somebody left a gas burner on low, and the flame went out, but the gas was still on? And you turned off the burner and opened the windows? And now you don't smell any gas?

If the answer to all of the above is "yes", then it should be perfectly safe in the house - you can smell gas at a much lower concentration than is dangerous.

If I misunderstood, and it still smells of gas, then there's a gas leak of some sort, and you should get out of the apartment and call the gas company. And get anyone else out of the building.

If you are no longer being exposed to gas, andthe flame was out you weren't getting CO or CO2 either - they are produced by combustion - so you'll probably be OK.
posted by mr vino at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Forever ago they used coal gas instead of natural gas, and that did have CO in it, and people would get poisoned by it when their pilot lights went out or whatever. It's been nearly 50 years since most places switched to natural gas, but the "this stuff will kill you" notion has persisted.

The two main dangers of natural gas are that it's flammable, and that it's not oxygen and if there's too much of it you won't get enough oxygen to breathe. If your windows have been open for a few hours, both of these are very unlikely.
posted by aubilenon at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you ever smell a lot of gas, the thing to do is go outside and call the gas company. It can be dangerous even to turn on a light switch because of a potential spark. Everything is probably fine, but best to have the gas company tell you that. They will likely send someone immediately. Since you're also not feeling well, you should probably also go to urgent care. You are probably also fine, but it seems to me like it would be smarter to be sure of that.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:28 PM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: ...omg I said "CO2" poisoning. I hope you guys had as much of a laugh as I just did.

We called the gas company - apparently we ventilated well, because the reading was fine by the time we got there, according to my housemate. I left and took a walk; I figured that if being outside didn't help, I'd be right near the hospital by the time my walk ended.

Thank you so, so much for your responses, all of which were super helpful.
posted by Ashen at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also the nurses on my local hospital's urgent care line (I'm not near a clinic with a 24/7 hotline otherwise) said that I should come in if it doesn't improve. Walking outside helped a lot.
posted by Ashen at 5:45 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The one time we has a possible CO issues in our place, I learned that anxious self-monitoring can also cause tightness in the chest and light headedness. Not saying that what it was for you, just confessing that it is what happened to me.
posted by metahawk at 6:07 PM on September 30, 2015 [10 favorites]

You can get a carbon monoxide alarm to handle that kind of poisoning issue. With carbon monoxide, you can't smell it, and honestly having an alarm is kind of OTT, but especially if you live in a rental property it's an OTT measure worth taking since it removes a source of worry.

As for the natural gas from the burner, the hazard with that is explosion, not poisoning. And natural gas alerts you to its presence by the smell that's added to it by the gas company.

If you ever smell gas again and it's not because somebody left a burner on - even if you smell it faintly, because I've had very big leaks diagnosed from very faint smells - go outside, call the gas company, and don't flick any switches till they've come over and fixed it.

Also, people have to not leave burners on. Sounds obvious but.
posted by tel3path at 3:34 AM on October 1, 2015

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