By Chris Edwards
TYLER COUNTY – Reports of a foul odor came in to the county’s emergency management office last week, and turned out to be the result of a chemical leak.
The smell caught the noses of Tyler County residents throughout the county, and according to Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe was from a truck carrying the chemical methyl mercaptan.
The truck, according to Jobe, had a valve leak that spread the chemical across the county, along US 69. The smell was reported on Wednesday, April 5, when citizens began reporting what they thought was a gas smell, from the north end of the county, Jobe said.
For a couple of hours, Emergency Management fielded calls of a bad smell, from the north end to the south end, of the county. In a post from Emergency Management published to the agency’s Facebook page, Jobe wrote that “A little goes a long way, literally.”
With methyl mercaptan, which is used as an odorant to give natural gas its smell, a tiny amount can produce a highly offensive odor. The example Jobe used was to imagine the Astrodome filled to its capacity with white golf balls, that if two of those balls were yellow, with the two yellow balls representing the chemical, then that is the concentration it takes to produce the odor.
The leak happened on a day with plentiful rainfall, countywide, and Jobe said that Emergency Management has no idea as to the quantity of the chemical spilled on the roadway.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to methyl mercaptan can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as shortness of breath and coughing.
Exposure from a small dose, however, is not likely to cause any delayed or long-term effects, according to the CDC.
The CDC notes the common analogue to the chemical as “rotten cabbage,” and noted that it is also used in the production of pesticides, jet fuels and plastics.