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Dozens of Atmos customers across North Texas report smelling gas

Expert: Natural gas odor not a cause for alarm, but better safe than sorry 03:06

COPPELL, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - Dozens of Atmos Energy customers across North Texas reported smelling natural gas, but the company said there's nothing to worry about.

On April 14, 2022, dozens of Atmos customers from several different cities smelled natural gas in their homes and businesses, resulting in a flood of 911 calls.

The cities where the calls have come in from include: Argyle, Coppell, Flower Mound, Southlake, Keller, Richardson, McKinney, Frisco, Irving, and Dallas.

Dallas Fire-Rescue officials confirmed that 233 gas leak calls came in between Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Friday at 3:30 p.m.

City and emergency officials said the issue was a mistake by Atmos, who put too much mercaptan in the lines. Mercaptan is added to natural gas, which is by itself odorless, to give it that distinctive smell.

In very high concentrations mercaptan can be toxic, but it is so smelly than the human nose is able to detect even very miniscule amounts of it in the air. According to the CDC, people can smell mercaptan at levels as low as two parts-per-billion. For comparison, the CDC recommends avoiding exposure to mercaptan at or above 500 parts-per-billion and OSHA's legal exposure limit is set at 10,000 parts-per-billion.

There were no reports of anyone hurt, and officials said there was no danger to the public.

An Atmos spokesperson told CBS 11 that there were no active evacuations and thanked customers for being vigilantly reporting the odors. 

"The safety of the public, our employees and our system is our highest priority, and we want to thank local Fire Departments and Denton County Emergency Services for their support and the residents who did the right thing by calling our emergency number. We are responding to every odor call and will continue to do so as part of our vision to be the safest provider of natural gas services."

On Friday afternoon, Atmos announced it would burn off natural gas in Coppell and Frisco at about 5 p.m. and in North Fort Worth at about 7 p.m. in order to safely remove the odor.

Officials said that it could take days for the odor to disperse. Meanwhile, several local fire departments report experiencing an abnormally high volume of calls. They're asking callers to continue to call if they smell gas, but ask for patience.

Experts agree, saying it's better to be safe than sorry.

"Well, I would still call the natural gas company if I smelled it. You don't know if you are the person who is unlucky to be downstream of these concentrations or not," said Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UT Dallas.

Gassensmith said that very small amounts of gas normally leak into homes, but that the amount is usually far too small to notice. "Even the tiniest, trivial leaks you wouldn't smell under most circumstances. This higher [mercaptan] concentration, you can just detect it because it's so incredibly powerful."

If you suspect a natural gas leak inside or outside your home or business, leave the area immediately and call 911. Atmos Energy's emergency line is also available 24 hours a day at 866-322-8667.  

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