Gas leaks are an all-too-common problem in parking garages. They tend to happen when construction crews accidentally hit natural gas pipes buried on the garage premises. Depending on the size of the leak, they can take a few hours or even days to fix, and you might have to shut down your garage in the meantime. Learn how to detect a gas leak in your parking garage.
What Is Natural Gas?
Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, though the dominant chemical is methane. In nature, natural gas has no smell or color, so there’s no easy way for human beings to know if it’s present or not. However, natural gas companies add a compound called mercaptan to natural gas in pipes so that it has a very noticeable smell. Most people liken the smell to rotten eggs.
Why Is There Natural Gas Near My Parking Garage?
When people talk about gas detection in parking garages, they’re often referring to the need for it due to dangerous car exhaust fumes. However, natural gas isn’t in cars—it’s in pipes buried in the ground near roadways and under parking lots. If you’re doing construction on your parking garage, your crew needs to know where these pipes are so that they can avoid hitting them.
Why Are Natural Gas Leaks Dangerous?
Before we talk about how to prevent and detect gas leaks, we need to mention why they’re so dangerous. You may not realize how many problems stem from hitting a gas pipe. Here are some notable ones:
- Nearby homes and businesses will have interrupted services.
- People may asphyxiate or inhale toxic fumes.
- Natural gas could combust, causing fires.
- Nearby businesses and roads may have to shut down.
Natural Gas and Human Health
Some gas companies like to advertise that natural gas isn’t toxic, which implies that it must be safe. However, a natural gas leak is a big health problem for several reasons. First of all, methane may not be poisonous to humans, but it can cause suffocation if it replaces too much oxygen in the air. And even before it progresses to suffocation, too little oxygen can cause headaches, trouble focusing, nausea, and fatigue.
Methane also isn’t the only thing in natural gas. One Harvard study found that the natural gas supplied to many homes in the Boston area contained VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can lead to cancer and other long-term health issues. The same study also found that some gas companies aren’t putting enough odorants into their natural gas to make people aware that they have a gas leak.
Natural Gas as a Fire Hazard
Aside from the dangers of inhaling natural gas, the risk of fire and explosions also exists. All combustible gases have a volume percentage range at which they become flammable. Basically, you need the right amount of combustible gas and oxygen for the gas to burn.
Natural gas has a very low range—only 5 to 15 percent—which makes it incredibly dangerous even with small leaks. Think of what would happen if you didn’t know you had a gas leak in your home and lit a candle. The results would be disastrous.
Natural Gas and Enclosed Spaces
The reason natural gas is such a major hazard in parking garages is that it’s in an enclosed space. Parking garages, especially underground ones, can become filled with natural gas to the point that people in the garage asphyxiate. This can lead to death if they don’t receive medical attention quickly.
Steps To Prevent Hitting a Gas Pipeline
The best way to handle a gas leak in your parking garage is to not have one in the first place. To that end, there are several things you can do to avoid a leak, like talking to the city or whoever owns the pipes on your property to make sure your crew takes precautions. Other steps involve limiting the activities of nearby pipelines and implementing municipal policies that require developers to contact pipeline companies before starting construction.
Detecting Natural Gas Leaks in Parking Garages
The only way to detect gas leaks in your parking garage is to use a gas detection system, including fixed gas monitors. These monitors can trigger ventilation systems when they detect high levels of unwanted gas. You can even hook them up to alarm systems that tell people to vacate the area.
When you send people to do maintenance in your garage, it’s vital that they bring a portable gas monitor with them so that they can have protection wherever they go. It’s possible that maintenance tasks may put someone out of range of the nearest stationary detector.
The Legal Ramifications of Gas Leaks
If a gas leak breaks out in your garage and someone suffers health consequences because of it, there’s always a risk that you could face a negligence lawsuit. This is just another reason why every garage needs an emergency gas detection system.
Using Multigas Detectors
The good news is that you don’t need a special natural gas detection system that’s different from your standard one. In fact, companies like TG Technical Services offer multigas detectors that can monitor several gases at once, including both methane and toxic car exhaust fumes.
What To Do When You Detect a Leak
When you or your gas detection system becomes aware of a gas leak, you must warn people to evacuate the area. After that, call 911, then contact your gas company or whoever owns the pipes on your property. Emergency responders will be able to assist with safe evacuation in the area and make sure that no one new enters. The gas company can help you get the leak fixed as quickly as possible.
Once you’re aware of a leak, don’t use any lighters, candles, matches, or electrical devices while in the vicinity of the leak. Even a spark of static electricity from a light switch could be enough to cause a fire.
Keeping Your Patrons and Employees Safe
If you need to install or upgrade a carbon monoxide detection system for your parking garage, check out our collection at TG Technical Services. We carry devices that detect individual gases or common pairings like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. We also have both stationary and handheld gas detectors so that you can protect your patrons and maintenance workers. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re more than happy to help you find a gas detector that’s compatible with your system and needs.