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Product leak causes natural gas scent across western Hidalgo County

At approximately 6 p.m. last Wednesday, the Hidalgo County Emergency Management received calls complaining of a natural gas odor across western Hidalgo County.

Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo Saldaña held morning interviews at Precinct 3 on Thursday, February 15. Inside the building, his clothes carried the scent of gas, humid and pungent, after coming back from the investigation.

“Yesterday evening around 6:30, we started to receive calls of a heavy odor of natural gas from the western part of the Hidalgo County,” Saldana said. “Then it extended into the eastern part of Starr County and as far as Roma. As of this morning, the isolation has stopped and is basically in the southwest portion of the county and part of the eastern part of Starr County.”

He revealed that the source, a privately owned company in McCook, was the cause. However, Saldana said investigators had yet to find the exact spot on site.

“We believe we have found the location. We’re just trying to pin-point where the source is,” he said.

State agencies worked to find what was initially believed to be a non-substantial gas leak, and the County sent the Pharr Hazmat Team to investigate the following morning. The odor, blown down from northern winds, deemed not harmful, caused irritation and nausea for some.

The La Joya ISD, with schools en route of the odor, stated classes remained in session, with several students and teachers leaving early due to nausea and headaches.

Saldana advised local media outlets to inform citizens across the affected regions to ventilate their homes by opening windows and changing their air filters to mitigate the odor.

After further investigation, the Hidalgo County Emergency Management Department concluded later Thursday evening that the scent that shrouded the western part of the county was due to a chemical that gives gasoline its distinctive smell

“The business is already working to resolve the issue and odor will be mitigated by the end of the day,” said an official Hidalgo County press release, released at 1:42 p.m.

The unnamed company in McCook had empty canisters with the chemical residue left outdoors, exposing it to weather and heat.

“There were no lids on them,” said Saldana. “One drop of that particular product can affect up to three-quarters of a mile of the odor. This was in a container that was empty.”

Although not confirmed, the chemical may have been mercaptan, a harmless chemical that produces a rotten egg smell.

Saldana stated that this incident reminds companies to handle chemical-based products with care.

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