UCSF Sustainability Stories

Sophia Labeko

Next Generation of Environmental Health Leaders - Olivia Leventhal

This story is a continuation of the Extracurricular: Next Generation of Environmental Health Leaders story.

Olivia Leventhal is a second-year student at UCSF School of Medicine. She interned with Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy, where she conducted a systematic literature review of the most common natural gas odorants and the associated health effects.

Naturally odor free, gas is mixed with odorants to give it a scent, which then helps people detect leaks and prevents illnesses and explosions. For the vast majority of natural gas odorants, there is no literature on long-term health effects, and we only have scant reports of acute health effects such as headache, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and respiratory complications. Compounding the lack of information on the health effects of odorants, we also don’t know exactly which odorants are used by which companies and at what concentrations. “Gas companies are not forthcoming this information and then there’s contradictory information, for instance methylmercaptan is one mercaptan that some say is not used in natural gas and others say that they’ve found it in natural gas,” explains Leventhal. In addition to the hard to find and contradictory information, some of it is protected by paywalls.

Considering her research, Leventhal recommends the following: for gas companies to report where odorants are stored and how they are treated, availability of equipment with a lower limit of detection, emergency preparedness for spills and leaks, and increase regulations for occupational and community exposures.

Watch Leventhal’s full presentation on YouTube.