1. Behbod, Behrooz MB, ChB, MSc, ScD
  2. Parker, Erin M. MA, PhD
  3. Jones, Erin A. BS, MD
  4. Bayleyegn, Tesfaye MD
  5. Guarisco, John PhD
  6. Morrison, Melissa MPH
  7. McIntyre, Mary G. MD, MPH, SSBB
  8. Knight, Monica MPH
  9. Eichold, Bert MD, DrPH, FACP
  10. Yip, Fuyuen PhD, MPH


Context: In 2008, a lightning strike caused a leak of tert-butyl mercaptan from its storage tank at the Gulf South Natural Gas Pumping Station in Prichard, Alabama. On July 27, 2012, the Alabama Department of Public Health requested Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologic assistance investigating possible health effects resulting from airborne exposure to mercaptan from a contaminated groundwater spring, identified in January 2012.


Objective: To assess the self-reported health effects in the community, to determine the scope of the reported medical services received, and to develop recommendations for prevention and response to future incidents.


Design: In September 2012, we performed a representative random sampling design survey of households, comparing reported exposures and health effects among residents living in 2 circular zones located within 1 and 2 miles from the contaminated source.


Setting: Eight Mile community, Prichard, Alabama.


Participants: We selected 204 adult residents of each household (>= 18 years) to speak for all household members.


Main Outcome Measures: Self-reported mercaptan odor exposure, physical and mental health outcomes, and medical-seeking practices, comparing residents in the 1- and 2-mile zones.


Results: In the past 6 months, 97.9% of respondents in the 1-mile zone and 77.6% in the 2-mile zone reported mercaptan odors. Odor severity was greater in the 1-mile zone, in which significantly more subjects reported exposures aggravating their physical and mental health including shortness of breath, eye irritations, and agitated behavior. Overall, 36.5% sought medical care for odor-related symptoms.


Conclusions: Long-term odorous mercaptan exposures were reportedly associated with physical and psychological health complaints. Communication messages should include strategies to minimize exposures and advise those with cardiorespiratory conditions to have medications readily available. Health care practitioners should be provided information on mercaptan health effects and approaches to prevent exacerbating existing chronic diseases.