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.
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