JCFD: Smell associated with natural gas lingering in Johnson City area Wednesday


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – UPDATE 11/18/2020: The Johnson City Fire Department has continued to receive calls about “gas leaks” due to a tank carrying a chemical additive that passed through the area on Tuesday.

According to JCFD Mike Oliver, the fire department has already received multiple calls of gas leaks on Wednesday morning, despite the disposal of the mercaptan responsible for the smell.

Oliver told News Channel 11 that despite the mercaptan no longer being present in the area, the putrid smell has continued to linger.

Mercaptan is an additive used in natural gas to give it a distinct smell.

Oliver says the odor is harmless to the public, but some individuals with serious underlying respiratory conditions may want to exercise caution or check with a medical professional.

The smell of the mercaptan caused multiple evacuations and gas leak calls to go out to JCFD on Tuesday.

Hampton Valley Forge Tennessee Volunteer Fire Department posted saying the smell was even prevalent in parts of Carter County.


The Johnson City Fire Department responded to around 20 calls regarding what was believed by many to be natural gas leaks on Tuesday.

JCFD District Chief Mike Oliver told News Channel 11 that there were never actually any leaks.

Oliver said a storage tank containing mercaptan, a chemical compound used as an additive in natural gas, was being transported on Interstate 26 on Tuesday morning.

Mercaptan, as Oliver explained, is used in natural gas to give it a scent. The compound has a distinct and powerful smell that is typically associated with natural gas, which is actually odorless.

Oliver said the smell of the additive is so strong that the storage tank would have never needed to get off the interstate to spread the scent across Johnson City.

Starting at 11:17 a.m., JCFD began responding to calls about natural gas leaks across the city. Oliver said firefighters were called to roughly 20 different reports of gas leaks.

Some of the locations fire crews responded to include Cherokee Road, Market Street, Peoples Street and Med Tech Parkway.

Atmos Energy was also on the scene of most of the reported leaks.

Oliver said all buildings that JCFD responded to have been monitored and cleared.

According to Oliver, mercaptan was first added to natural gas after a gas leak went undetected and caused an explosion at the New London School in Texas in 1937.

Oliver told News Channel 11 that the smell of mercaptan is so distinctive that “just a drop of that stuff” could be smelled across town if the tank transporting it allowed the smell to escape in any way.

The high winds on Tuesday also likely factored into the spread of the smell, according to Oliver.


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Multiple buildings along Med Tech Parkway in Johnson City were evacuated due to a gas leak on Tuesday afternoon.

News Channel 11 had a crew on the scene.

Individuals were evacuated from the Johnson City Eye Clinic and Surgery Center and the Bank of Tennessee building.

Crews on the scene report that some patients from the eye clinic were still on gurneys at the time of the evacuation.

As of 12:20 p.m., the roadway was open and the Johnson City Fire Department and Atmos Energy crews were on-scene.

Around 11:40 a.m., the Wellness Center sent an alert to gym members that the center was closed due to a gas leak in the area.

News Channel 11 is reaching out for more information.

This is a developing story. Look for updates on WJHL.com.

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