SIDNEY — Ask a Holy Angels fourth-grader what a natural gas leak smells like and they’ll be sure to answer: rotten eggs. And they’ll even be able to tell you why — because of a man-made chemical additive called mercaptan.
On Tuesday, Anne Gardner and Jan Adams, representatives from the National Energy Foundation and Vectren engineer Brent VanSkiver visited fourth-grade classes at Holy Angels to present Energy Safe Kids, an interactive, hands-on safety education program, which teaches young students about natural gas safety.
Teachers Julie Watkins and Nicole Pence brought their two classes together for the hour-long presentation, to hear Michigan-based presenters Gardner and Adams offer safety tips. VanSkiver of Sidney — who also happens to have a fourth-grader at Holy Angels — also attended to lend some of his knowledge about the gas company’s policies and to reinforce the safety tips being taught.
Ten-year-old Leah Zimmerman said she was “glad I learned about it (natural gas) because it is safe. It was interesting to learn about that smell, the mercaptan,” Zimmerman said. “It was pretty cool.”
Students learned that since natural gas is colorless and odorless, the non-toxic chemical mercaptan is added so a leak can be detected. Mercaptan contains sulfur, which has the odor of rotten eggs.
Gardner and Adams showed students a Power Point presentation on how natural gas formed in the Earth, inviting a couple students to demonstrate the process using sand, baking soda, water and vinegar to create a chemical reaction simulating natural gas. Students learned how gas used today in appliances such as water heaters and furnaces is found underground in pockets, and that plankton — small plants and animals — helped to form the gas and oil found beneath the Earth’s surface, as a result of time, temperature and pressure.
To demonstrate how pressure and temperature assisted in the formation of natural gas, students were asked to press their palms together using as much pressure as they could stand. “What happens when you press your palms against each other,” Gardner asked. Students yelled “they got hot.”
A portion of the program was spent promoting energy safety — to keep areas around a furnace or gas water heater free of clutter and debris and how to use three senses to detect a natural gas leak — smell (the rotten egg aroma), sight (bubbling water) and hearing (hissing sounds). If a leak is suspected, the fourth-graders were told to “get outta there, tell an adult, call 911 and go to a safe place.”
Students also learned not to do anything to create a spark if a gas leak is suspected, to refrain from using a cell phone, turning a light switch on or off, ringing a door bell or using a garage door opener.
The topic of carbon monoxide also was discussed, including how to detect and how to recognize symptoms of CO poisoning, including headache, dizziness and nausea. A CO detector was shown and students were encouraged to talk with their parents about using a detector.
Each student went home with an Energy Safety booklet to go over with their parents. A scratch-off card with the smell of mercaptan was included. Teachers also receive classroom materials to reinforce the energy safety program.
The energy program was presented to Sidney’s Christian Academy students last week, with Fort Loramie and Jackson Center students scheduled to hear the presentation later this week.
All fourth-grade classrooms also will be invited to participate in a create-a-book contest using what they learn from the safety education program to teach other kids to be energy safe. Cash prizes will be awarded to some of the participating classrooms.