CHARLOTTE — If you smell gas in Charlotte on Thursday, you’re not alone.
Mecklenburg County authorities said they were receiving a high number of 911 calls about a rotten smell associated with natural gas throughout the city. From downtown to Plaza Midwood, west Charlotte and north Charlotte, people couldn’t escape the smell.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?'” said Christine Ramos, who lived in NoDa. “It wouldn’t surprise me if anything happened in Charlotte.”
According to Piedmont Natural Gas, there are no natural gas leaks on its network. He said the widespread smell was caused by a local company destroying mercaptan tanks which had been “erroneously reported empty”. A source told Channel 9 that Legacy Environmental was the company behind the smell.
The tank contained the odorant added to the natural gas. Natural gas has no smell, so authorities add the chemical mercaptan to give it that sulfur smell that alerts people to leaks. Piedmont Natural Gas said in a statement that “mercaptan does not present a hazard and does not require venting.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “olfactory fatigue may occur” for mercaptan. This means that you may stop smelling the odor before the mercaptan vapors have completely dissipated.
The smell was so overwhelming that it prompted evacuations at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and several other businesses. Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over large groups of people in front of buildings and even hotels.
“(It) smelled of natural gas. We were in our hotel room, and I had a puff of it, and I thought, ‘This is weird. We are in this closed room. There was just the smell of gas,” said Lee Wilzcek, who could smell the smell in Charlotte.
The smell also caused emergency alerts to be sent across the city saying not to call 911.
“Our call center received thousands of service calls today,” said CMPD Lt. Stephen Fishbach.
The sheriff’s office said the Charlotte Fire Department then emptied the courthouse, but it will remain closed for the rest of the day.
Charlotte Fire and Mecklenburg County officials said they continue to work with Piedmont Natural Gas.
The role played by weather conditions in making odors stronger
Meteorologist Keith Monday said the lingering smell of natural gas was due to the temperature inversion. This is when the warmer air sits above the cooler, denser air at the surface. Any strong odors can be trapped under this inversion, such as the strongest smell of gas.
The National Weather Service has also confirmed that a weather inversion makes the smell easier to smell.
Monday said Thursday’s weather did not bring up the gas smell, but made it more pronounced.
>> The graph below shows what a temperature inversion looks like on a sounding (measurements taken from a weather balloon.) The red line is the temperature and the green line is the dew point. The inversion appears when the red line moves to the right with height, then quickly to the left.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have asked people not to call 911 regarding the weather inversion unless they feel sick or have a medical emergency.
Channel 9 has contacted Piedmont Natural Gas for more information. We have not had a response at this stage.
This is a developing story. Come back with www.wsoctv.com for updates.
(WATCH BELOW: North Carolina approves Piedmont Natural Gas rate hike)
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