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Widespread gas odor caused by propane tank tampering

Posted April 10, 2013

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— A widespread gas odor reported throughout much of western Wake County on Wednesday night was caused by people dismantling propane tanks for scrap metal in Apex, according to town spokeswoman Stacie Galloway. 

Firefighters responded to an area of Evans Road, where they found "folks cutting into some old high-pressure propane tanks," Galloway said.

Before the thick odor, Ben Jones said he heard a loud noise coming from the wooded area behind his house.

"Grinding, like chainsaws, two of three guys out this way in the back area just cutting stuff," he said. "A foul odor started filling the whole house up, filled the whole area up."

Galloway said the odor traveled for miles. WRAL viewers in Apex, Cary and northwest Raleigh reported a very strong gas smell starting around 7 p.m.

Fire officials said there was no danger to the public, but Jones said he worried about his safety.

"I smoke cigarettes. I am like, are we allowed to smoke a cigarette out here? Are we going to blow up or what?" he said. 

Apex propane tank cutting Odor from Apex propane tank cutting stretches for miles

"It smells worse than it is," said Galloway, adding that the tanks are old and have only residual amounts of propane in them.

She said the smell comes from an additive and not the gas itself, and that concentrations weren't strong enough to cause any health problems. Still, she urged anyone who experiences headaches or other symptoms to seek medical assistance.

Jones said the smell made him feel nauseated. 

Officials said there is no danger of ground or water contamination.

It wasn't clear whether anyone could be charged for tampering with the propane tanks. Authorities are checking with the Department of Health and Agriculture to determine whether any laws were broken. 

13 Comments

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  • Desiderata Apr 16, 2013

    The scrap yard asks where the metal came from. If it was not their tanks, I would think they are stealing. The salvage yard in Sanford now takes a photo of driver with the vehicle for identification. How dumb can you get..oh yea,

  • sutherngrl94 Apr 11, 2013

    You seen no air quality issues Mercury? And Hans, before you go criticizing people why don't you try staying up all night explaining to citizens who are calling worried what is going on and responding to 90 emergency calls for the same incident. It's not the end of the world but it was a very very stupid move on this guy's part.

  • Obamacare rises Apr 11, 2013

    You might be a redn**k if you cut propane tanks with a chainsaw.

  • JAT Apr 11, 2013

    polara - good point!

  • Capt Mercury Apr 11, 2013

    If the tanks were empty when they started cutting them up, I see no legal issues here. But I bet they were not completely empty. Yes, some mercaptan residue will remain in a tank after it is empty of all propane. And yes, it does stink to high heaven. These guys should have known they would catch the attention of their neighbors with the smell.

  • common tater Apr 11, 2013

    I smelled it in Cary last night when I went outside. Quickly went to check my gas entrance, valves and connections for leaks. There should be some area alert for this type thing. And yes, they should be charged with something...they alarmed a lot of people. What I don't understand is why they had to be cut up to sell for scrap...does the scrap yard reject gas tanks as a rule?

  • sarahplacz1 Apr 11, 2013

    I live in a neighborhood that Evans Rd runs behind. The odor in my neighborhood was so strong and noxious that I, and several of my neighbors had to leave for several hours. A lot of neighbors complained of nausea and headaches. I experienced nausea, headaches, and burning of my eyes/nose/throat. It may not have been a severe health risk, but it was a very painfully uncomfortable experience that should not have happened. There have to be rules in place on how to handle propane tank disposal. Also, a PSNC energy truck went through our neighborhood, and it was beind investigated wether or not the people responsible actually owned the tanks, and had the right to do anything with them. THAT is probably where the investigation is headed.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 11, 2013

    Jones said he worried about his safety.

    "I smoke cigarettes."

    Ah, what about your health?

  • novacrazy2000 Apr 11, 2013

    I'm not sure about cutting into a propane tank. Must be a good ol boys thing.
    Hey, Billy Bob watch this.

  • maduda Apr 11, 2013

    It's called Mercaptin, and it's what gives LP and natural gas the smell, since they are both odorless. And if you don't know that it's safe (even if it's not healthy) to smoke in an area that's not being evacuated, you need to head back to school and find out about oxygen concentrations and such. Geez...

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