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Gas Odor Closes Schools

By Staff | Feb 27, 2013

The New Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department responds to a report of an odor of natural gas at New Martinsville School Tuesday morning. The smell there and at Magnolia High School prompted their closure “out of an abundance of caution.” It turns out the natural gas was over odorized, resulting in several reports of gas smells in New Martinsville that morning. (Photo by Lauren Riggs)

Gas odors in New Martinsville kept emergency personnel busy and prompted the dismissal of New Martinsville School and Magnolia High School Tuesday morning.

New Martinsville Fire Chief Larry Couch said reports of gas odor came from the two schools, Bob Evans restaurant, and a residence on Highland Avenue. Fire department personnel checked levels but never found any instances above seven parts per million. He noted that meters don’t begin to alarm until 30 ppm and a level of about 15 ppm is reason for concern.

“The evacuation was done between the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office and school administration out of an abundance of caution,” noted Couch.

Assistant Superintendent of Wetzel County Schools Jay Yeager confirmed the report of a gas odor and schools’ dismissal. He said Mountaineer Gas was going to pressure test the lines at the schools.

By Tuesday afternoon Larry Meador, manager of business development and communications for Mountaineer Gas, reported that they found the harmless cause. Natural gas is odorless, but the telltale smell is a fragrance injected into the gas for leak detection.

The State Fire Marshall and New Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department were at Magnolia High School Tuesday morning investigating a natural gas odor.

“It is my understanding that inadvertently there was too much of the odor injected into the gas,” said Meador who unofficially said it might have been as much as five times the normal amount of odor. “It happens on very rare occasions.

“Anywhere it is being used, there is an odor that can come out of it, even during the combustion,” noted Meador. He added that it depends upon the flow of gas as to when the strongly odored gas may be out of the area. He noted that the colder evening would prompt more gas usage and, thus, help clear out the lines.

While the odor is harmless, gas is not. Meador cautioned that a smell of natural gas is never to be taken lightly. “I urge folks not to just pass that off a smell as a strong odorant in the gas. If they do smell it, be on the safe side and contact us,” said Meador.

Mountaineer Gas’ emergency dispatch can be reached at 1-800-834-2070. It is manned 24 hours per day. He said this is the number that should be called, not 911 as that would only delay the gas company’s response time.