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What to do if you smell sewer gas in your home

If you smell sewer gas in your home, it could be a sign of a damaged vent stack. Call a plumber at the first sign of this smell. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Marc E.)

If you smell sewer gas in your home, it could be a sign of a damaged vent stack. Call a plumber at the first sign of this smell. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Marc E.)

The smell of rotten eggs or sewer gas in your home should not be ignored, as it indicates the sign of a plumbing problem.

It’s not healthy to breathe sewer gas. The foul smell is hydrogen sulfide, a gas that comes from decaying organic matter – sewage. In a residential home, it exists in low levels and can occur if a plumbing problem exists. When the home’s plumbing system is working properly, the naturally-occurring hydrogen sulfide is directed up and out of the building through a vent system, which exits through the roof. No smell should be present.

When we smell this gas in homes, many times it is the cause of a small problem, such as a dried out water seal in a floor drain. Other times it is a sign of a bigger problem, such as a broken sewer or vent stack. Diagnosing this problem can be simple or complicated, depending on the cause of the problem.

Hydrogen sulfide is dangerous even at low levels. Prolonged exposure can cause irritability, headaches, fatigue, sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, loss of appetite, poor memory and dizziness. It affects people and pets that are exposed to it over a long period of time. Even if the smell comes and goes, it needs to be addressed. Likely there is a blocked, broken, cracked or deteriorated pipe allowing the gas to enter your home. It’s not going to go away until a repair is made.

Hydrogen sulfide is a heavy gas and is strongest near the floor or ground. Once exposed to the smell you will become desensitized to it, which causes you to think it is no longer present. Hydrogen sulfide never occurs in high levels within homes because of the small amount of sewage and the amount of fresh air that moves through the system.

In large municipal sewers and in industrial settings, this gas can be found at much higher levels and cause sudden death. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) has put strict regulations in place at industrial settings where proper equipment to measure the levels and respirators are used.

If you smell rotten eggs in your home, you do not need to evacuate the building. Call a plumber as soon as possible.

The Scottish Plumber is the trusted drain and sewer professional for Chicago and its suburbs with fast, reliable service from its friendly technicians.

As of June 29, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.


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Comments

My symptoms are the same as Beatrix (above). I have just complained to apartment management. I will feedback later.

Hi my name is Beatrix Days and i have been exposed to sewer gas inhalation and are having many health problems. I have address this problem to my land lord, and DHEC and so far a statement was made and the studor vent was changed. The problem is i'm still smelling some odor that's not as strong as the sewer that's got me with red eyes, chest pains, muscle spasms, chills, fever, and just recently another UTI. I need to know who else could i talk to to get this issue resolved?

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