Sewer Gas

That smell of rotting eggs rising from your home’s sink may be deadly. Serious health issues arise from sewer gases, and these issues can even lead to death. One woman in Kansas City recently died from sewer gases rising from her sink.

Sewer gases, known to make a person lose consciousness in severe cases, rose from her sink after the plumbing had been disassembled. She was found unconscious and was rushed to a nearby hospital before being pronounced dead.

The woman that rented the home and allowed the deceased to stay there claims that the home had several plumbing issues. The water wouldn’t drain in the sinks, and she was prepared to have a sewer camera inspection performed because she assumed a clog must be the reason for the plumbing issues.

Sewer gases can be deadly, and new reports suggest that the issue is more serious than previously thought.

Risks to Heart and Lungs

MedPage reports that sewer gas can be even more deadly than previously thought. The smell of rotten eggs, associated with the gases, comes from the hydrogen sulfide gas present. Hydrogen sulfide was shown, in low dosages, to impact:

  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rate
  • Metabolic rate

The tests, performed by Massachusetts General Hospital doctors, were first presented in the 2008 issue of Anesthesiology.

And the studies showed that high concentrations of the gases are toxic and pose severe health risks.
Breathing of the gas at room temperature has also been shown to lower body temperature. Discontinuing of exposure led to the body temperature rising back to normal levels. Interestingly, body temperature didn’t drop in warm temperature exposure.

Heart rate concerns are very serious, especially for the elderly that may already have heart issues.
Regardless of the temperature, heart rates slowed to about 50% of their normal rate and remained low for six hours after exposure to the gases. Heart rates also improved within two hours of hydrogen sulfide being removed from the room.

When warm weather and exposure occur at the same time, sewer gases can also cause blood pressure to increase at moderate levels. Cardiac rhythm also becomes irregular when a person is exposed to the gas.

A person’s lungs may also be impacted when hydrogen sulfide is present.
Studies show that three hours of exposure is enough to cut breaths-per-minute by more than 50% to dangerously low levels. Mice, which were the center of the study, also exhibited rates that fell from 115 breaths-per-minute down to 31.

Mice became inactive at this time and appear to be asleep, although they did respond to stimulus.
Slower breaths-per-minute is associated with a slowdown in metabolic rate. The body will naturally burn energy throughout the day through a person’s metabolism.

Researchers believe that the inactivity is due to the metabolic slowing that occurs when the gases are present for long periods of time. Oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production rates fall significantly in just 10 minutes of exposure.

Reversing the Adverse Side Effects of Sewer Gas Exposure

Sewer gas exposure can be deadly, but when the exposure is corrected, there is a reversing effect that occurs. Studies show that within minutes of leaving a room with sewer gases, the body will start to reverse the heart and lung side effects.

Within a period of six hours, the body will completely return back to its prior state. Anyone that has a strong rotten egg smell in their home will want to:

  • Ventilate the area by opening windows and doors to allow the gas to escape the room. When the gas is trapped in the room, it poses a serious health risk and can cause death in severe cases.
  • Plumbers should be called to find the source of the gas. The gas will often come up through sewer lines. Plumbers will be able to assess the plumbing system and correct the issue.
  • Leave the home when possible. Exposure is deadly over the long-term. Return to the home when the issue is corrected. Ventilation can reduce these risks, but sewer gases entering the home are very serious and need to be corrected immediately.

But the studies aren’t completely bad. Researchers suggest that the studies may lead to treatments for your organs. The cooling of the body temperature and slowing of heart, lung and metabolic function may be able to be used to preserve organs.

Cardiac arrest or other traumatic injuries may, in the future, require hydrogen sulfide to be used to slow the body down and preserve the organs until doctors can properly treat the patient. The idea is to limit organ damage caused by these traumatic events.

The hibernation-like effects of the gas are what’s beneficial. Yet, when not in a controlled environment, this hibernation can quickly lead to health issues and potential death.

Symptoms Experienced by Sewer Gas Exposure

Protecting yourself from hydrogen sulfide means knowing what symptoms, aside from the smell, you need to be aware of. There are three main risks of exposure:

  1. Poisoning. You can suffer from hydrogen sulfide poisoning, which causes eye and respiratory irritation. Dizziness and nausea are also possible along with a feeling of drowsiness and headaches. A person’s sense of smell will be impacted with high levels of exposure. Loss of consciousness and death occur in the most severe cases.
  2. Fire and explosion. Hydrogen sulfide is a very explosive and flammable gas. Ventilating the area is essential to avoid the risk of fire. If you smell rotten eggs, do not light a match or put on an oven.
  3. Suffocation. The feeling of suffocation will occur after long exposure. As the report above indicates, the gases will limit the amount of oxygen that a person’s body is able to produce.

If the symptoms persist, you’ll want to contact your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
Your local fire department can be called in the event that the smell is overwhelming and you fear high concentrations of the gas may be entering the premises. Evacuating the area and having it inspected is essential.