Something stinks in Junction
October 5, 2007
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. ” A tank leaking a potent gas additive was behind the stench spreading across downtown and Orchard Mesa this week, Mesa County Health Department and Grand Junction Fire Department officials said Thursday.
The substance can cause dizziness and headaches but no real harm, officials said.
The fire department discovered the 5-foot-by-18-inch tank filled with liquid mercaptan Thursday morning at VanGundy’s salvage yard on Fourth Avenue. A driver for SourceGas, a natural gas provider, delivered the tank to VanGundy’s after mistakenly gathering it with other tanks from around Collbran, Colo., Fire Department Spokesman Mike Page said.
The additive leaked when the tank’s valve accidentally came off.
Natural gas and propane distributors add a miniscule pinch of foul-smelling mercaptan to odorless gases to warn people of a gas leak. The odor spread over a two-mile radius to Orchard Mesa and the downtown area, said Perry Buda, air quality specialist for the Mesa County Health Department.
“A little bit goes a long way,” Buda said.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several different types of mercaptan gas exist. Page said he did not know which type leaked out into the Grand Valley’s air this week.
The stink caused a few businesses to evacuate, and Orchard Mesa Middle School, Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary, Dos Rios Elementary and New Emerson Elementary all called 911 about the smell.
A few drops of liquid mercaptan that leaked from propane tanks at VanGundy’s were initially fingered as the ource of the odor that permeated parts of town from Tuesday through Thursday.
Firefighters responded to a call Tuesday night about a gas leak-type smell in south downtown that was traced to propane tanks being sheared into scrap metal at VanGundy’s, according to Page. Firefighters applied a neutralizing agent to the tanks, said Fire Chief Ken Watkins.
But the odor persisted, and so did 911 calls. Then, the leaking mercaptan tank was discovered.
Dispatchers received 200-300 calls about the smell over the three-day stretch, Page said.
The odor is expected to dissipate by Friday, but Watkins encouraged people to keep calling if they think they smell a gas leak. After all, he said, two of the hundreds of callers actually detected unrelated gas leaks.
Meanwhile, SourceGas is cleaning up the soil where the mercaptan leaked and has hauled away the tank.
No word yet on where the tank is going.