CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A strong natural gas odor around Charlotte sparked a high number of 911 calls around 8:45 a.m. Thursday, City of Charlotte officials said.
Piedmont Natural Gas confirmed with QCN that the widespread odor was caused by the destruction of mercaptan tanks by a local company.
Mercaptan is a chemical that’s added to natural gas that causes ‘a distinct odor’ to make gas leaks easier to detect. The Independent describes the smell as similar to “rotting cabbages or smelly socks”
“We’re aware of natural gas reports in Charlotte. At this time, there are no natural gas leaks on our system,” Piedmont Natural Gas said. “We’re continuing to work with local authorities.”
Emergency officials said they believe a weather phenomenon called an “inversion” is keeping the smell close to the surface.
The National Weather Service said inversions are stable masses where cooler air is near the earth’s surface and warmer air is on top. The air masses are “inverted” from their normal temperature zones.
“Telecommunicators are receiving a high volume of 911 calls about a strong gasoline smell across the Charlotte area. This is due to a weather event. PLEASE do not call 911 about this. It is preventing other people with emergencies from reaching 911,” CMPD said.
When warm air rises, air under the inversion can’t escape because it is cooler than the air above causing smoke and pollution – and in this case, smell – to get trapped.
“This is a message from the Charlotte Fire Department. We are experiencing a high 911 call volume related to a natural gas odor in the city. The National Weather Service has confirmed a weather inversion is making the odor easier to smell, and we are working with Piedmont Natural Gas and continuing to investigate the source of the odor. There is no need to report this odor,” Charlotte Fire said.
Officials are asking community members not to call 911 to report the odor unless there is a medical emergency or they feel that the smell is coming from their home or building.
The National Weather Service believes the inversion will lift within a few hours which will help dissipate the smell of the odor throughout Charlotte.
Medic confirms to Queen City News they responded to at least 20 calls related to this incident.