Scratch-and-Sniff Cards Still Worked

The natural gas supplier Energy West distributes scratch-and-sniff cards to its customers so they can learn to recognize the smell of a gas leak. That backfired in Great Falls, Montana. When a batch of expired cards was discarded, they were picked up by a garbage truck that compressed them with the other trash, which released the smell to the entire town as the truck traveled its route on Wednesday.

All the cards combined to make a very strong smell, so as the garbage truck drove around downtown, it left behind the smell people think of as natural gas.

“It’s really, really potent,” said Jamie Jackson, a battalion chief for Great Falls Fire/Rescue.

The smell wafted into downtown buildings, so emergency crews responded to several reports of gas leaks Wednesday morning, and numerous buildings were evacuated.

Workers still were checking for possible gas leaks at noon “to make sure two things didn’t happen at once.” Workers followed the garbage trucks out to the dump and went through those loads of garbage after they were dumped.

“There’s no problem with contamination,” Bohr said, and the smell samples “can be buried with normal garbage.” He said 25,000 of the samples were sent out at one time.

The gas company has apologized for the situation. Link

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In a city of about 50,000 residents, assuming the gas company printed 50,000 of these cards, the gas company wasted fifty per cent of these cards and tossed them out. If they were 25 cents apiece, then $6,250 was tossed out. That would pay my gas bill for about six years. Dang.
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Natural gas has no odor. The "smell" of natural gas is added so that it can be smelled. The chemical, methyl mercaptan or methanetiol, occurs naturally in bad breath, feces, things like that (and in small amounts in some natural gasses). In fact, if you've even smelled a strange smell in your urine after eating asparagus, you have smelled this chemical. So, it was chosen as an additive because our olfactory systems are incredibly sensitive to it!
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