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How to recognize, react and respond to a natural gas leak

How to Recognize, React and Respond to a Natural Gas Leak.

If you suspect a natural gas leak or other gas emergency, evacuate the area immediately and call 911 from a safe location.

What Does Natural Gas Smell Like?

Natural gas is non-toxic, colorless, odorless and combustible. For your safety, we add an unpleasant odorant called mercaptan to natural gas delivered through Washington Gas’ distribution system. Mercaptan gives natural gas a strong, unpleasant odor so you will be able to detect escaping natural gas.

Call 202-624-6092 to receive our Natural Gas Safety brochure with a scratch-and-sniff sample of mercaptan. Government agencies, schools, businesses, property managers and others are welcome to request multiple copies of the brochure for public education and awareness purposes.

Responding to Your Call

Washington Gas dispatches trained technicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week to address natural gas leaks and other gas emergencies. If a leak poses an immediate threat, the company takes quick action to make the area safe. If a natural gas leak does not pose an immediate threat, the area is made safe and corrective action may be scheduled for a later date. This prioritization process helps the company ensure the safety of all its customers while allocating resources more efficiently, coordinating necessary work with customers’ schedules and minimizing traffic disruptions.

If You Smell Natural Gas

  • If you smell natural gas, do not attempt to locate the source of the odor. Evacuate the premises immediately and call 911 and our Emergency Leak Line at 703-750-1400 or at 800-752-7520, if outside of the local calling area.

  • If the odor is very strong or you hear a blowing or hissing noise, vacate the building immediately, leaving doors unlocked as you go. Warn others as you exit. Do nothing that could create an ignition source. Do not light a match or use any type of phone or battery-powered equipment. Do not turn electrical equipment or light switches on or off. Do not start your car or any type of motorized equipment. Call 911 and the appropriate Washington Gas emergency numbers as instructed above only after you have reached a safe distance away from the building or area.

If You Smell Natural Gas

Call 911 then Emergency Leak Line

703-750-1400 or 800-752-7520 
  • Other Signs of Natural Gas

    Because gas traveling through a small portion of our transmission pipeline is not odorized, visible and audible signs of a possible leak are also described below.

     Follow the same precautions if you:

    • Are outside and smell gas
    • Hear hissing or blowing noises
    • See dirt being thrown into the air
    • See fire coming from the ground or appearing to burn above ground
    • See water bubbling or being blown into the air at a pond, creek or river
    • See a dry spot in a moist field
    • See dead or dying vegetation on or near a pipeline right-of-way
  • Indoor Air

    Gas appliances and fireplaces use oxygen from the air to operate. When a home is sealed tightly, the oxygen inside can be used up and not replaced fast enough. The lack of air can cause incomplete burning, allowing carbon monoxide to form. Never enclose gas furnaces, water heaters or dryers in a closet or small room without providing openings for air circulation as required by local and state code.
  • Venting

    Indoor air quality can be affected when the products of gas combustion are not vented properly. If your appliances require venting through metal pipes-- also known as flues-- a match test can be used to find out if your venting is effective. Once the burner is lit and operating normally, wait approximately 30 seconds and then hold a lighted match just below the flue-diverter on water heaters, furnaces and boilers.

    If the flame leans towards you, flutters downward or goes out, the system is not drawing combustion particles outside through the vent or the flue. If you notice these signs, turn off the appliance, air out the building and call a licensed natural gas contractor immediately to inspect the equipment.

    If the appliance is in an area with an attic fan, kitchen fan or bathroom fan, the fan can set up vent or flue back drafts. Have a licensed contractor check your venting.

  • Gas Migration

    We distribute natural gas through a network of underground pipes and service lines. If a leak should occur, it is possible for gas to migrate into buildings, including those without natural gas service. Note: When calling us from another location to report a natural gas leak or other gas emergency at your home or business, please give the Emergency Leak Line representative the address or phone number where you can be reached, so we can gain unimpeded access to the house or building if necessary.
  • Gas Theft

    Tampering with a natural gas meter is illegal and dangerous. The natural gas meter at your home -- whether located inside or outside -- belongs to Washington Gas. Call our Gas Theft Hotline at 703-750-4570 if you see suspicious activity involving a Washington Gas meter. The company offers rewards for verified reports of illegal piping connections or stolen meters. You may leave a recorded message with your name and other contact information, but you are not required to identify yourself unless you wish to be considered for the reward. Customers outside of the local calling area may dial 800-752-7520.
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