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Tox Town - Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play
Natural Gasen español
Safe use of natural gas for cooking and heating is not harmful.

What is natural gas?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, as are coal and oil. Fossil fuels formed when layers of buried plants and animals were exposed to heat and pressure over thousands of years. The original energy of the plants and animals is stored as carbon in natural gas. 

Natural gas from the United States is primarily composed of methane, which is a highly flammable chemical compound. Natural gas is colorless and odorless in its pure form, but gas companies add a warning smell to it that can be easily detected if it is leaking. 

Natural gas can be burned to produce electricity from power plants and has residential, industrial, and commercial uses. Burning natural gas releases greenhouse gases that can contribute to climate change.

At home, natural gas is used in heating furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, pool and jacuzzi heaters, fireplaces, outdoor lights, clothes dryers, air conditioners, and stoves. 

Industrial uses of natural gas are primarily in a few industries, including pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, petroleum refining, stone, clay, glass, plastic, and food processing. Natural gas is also used for waste treatment and incineration, industrial lighting, heating, cooling, dehumidification, glass melting, water heating, and combined heat and power systems. It is a component of methanol, which in turn is used to produce formaldehyde and MTBE, a gasoline additive. 

Natural gas is used commercially in places such as hotels, office buildings, restaurants, and government buildings for space heating, water heating, cooling, cooking, and powering generators. 

Natural gas is used for fuel in vehicles, including airport shuttles, school buses, taxis, and transit buses.

How might I be exposed to natural gas?

You can be exposed to natural gas at home if you use natural gas in your heating furnace, stove, water heater, or clothes dryer. You can be exposed if you use appliances or lighting that runs on natural gas. 

You can be exposed to natural gas at work if you work in a natural gas-fired electric power plant, a waste treatment or incineration plant, a restaurant with natural gas stoves, a glass melting facility, or combined heat and power plant. You can be exposed if you work in industries that involve pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, petroleum refining, stone, clay, glass, plastic, and food processing. 

You can be exposed if you work in a restaurant, building, or facility that uses natural gas for space heating, water heating, cooling, cooking, and powering generators. You may also be exposed if you work at a gas station or vehicle service station or if you drive or service a vehicle that is fueled by natural gas.

How can natural gas affect my health?

Exposure to extremely high levels of natural gas can cause loss of consciousness or even death. 

If a natural gas leak has occurred and is severe, oxygen can be reduced, causing dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache, and irregular breathing. 

Exposure to low levels of natural gas is not harmful to your health. 

When natural gas is burned to produce electricity, it produces nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and methane, which can affect your health. 

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to natural gas, contact your health care professional.

For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.


More Links
Natural Gas (US Energy Information Administration)
Natural Gas (Environmental Protection Agency)
Natural Gas Safety (New York City Fire Department) (PDF — 472.51)
Oil and Natural Gas Production (Environmental Protection Agency)

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Last Updated: October 29, 2014

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