Getting used to gas smell is dangerous, Poison Center director says

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 19, 2010) — Residents of the Pearsall area, where an abandoned well beganspewing water and hydrogen sulfide five days ago, should be extremely mindful of becoming used to the gas smell, said the director of the South Texas Poison Center at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Miguel Fernandez, M.D., a medical toxicologist, said the rotten egg odor of hydrogen sulfide quickly causes olfactory fatigue. Basically, people no longer perceive it. “You get used to the smell, and when you no longer are aware of it, this can lead to being exposed for a longer period of time, which is dangerous,” Dr. Fernandez said.

Hydrogen sulfide acts much like the poison cyanide, he said. Both substances damage cells’ ability to create energy, essentially suffocating the cells. Symptoms of exposure may includeskin irritation, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, confusion, heartrhythm problems, seizures and, ultimately, death.

“Because of the possibility of these and other health effects, if you smell something, get out of there,” Dr. Fernandez said.

The well began spewing the water-gas mixture on Sunday night (Nov. 14). Dr. Fernandez noted that changes in winddirection, or lack of wind, can affect atmospheric concentrations.

UTMedicine San Antonio is the clinical practice of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. With more than 700doctors – all faculty from the School of Medicine – UT Medicine is the largest medical practice in Central and South Texas, with expertise in more than 60 different branches of medicine. Primary care doctors and specialists see patients in private practice at UT Medicine’s clinical home, the Medical Arts & Research Center (MARC), located in the South Texas Medical Center at 8300 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio 78229. Most major health plans are accepted, and there are clinics and physicians at several local and regional hospitals, including CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, University Hospital and Baptist Medical Center. Call (210) 450-9000 to schedule an appointment, or visit the Web site at for a complete listing of clinics and phone numbers.

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