ALTON - Ameren Illinois Communications Executive Brian Bretsch said there is a dangerous common misconception potentially putting Illinois residents in danger. 

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"There is a common misconception that if a customer smells natural gas in their home or business that if they call Ameren Illinois, the company will charge a service fee to respond," Bretsch said in an email. "That is totally false. Our crews will respond immediately no matter what time of day, seven days a week, and there is absolutely no charge to the customer for a call if there is a legitimate concern about a gas leak." 

While many customers may think Ameren Illinois is exclusively an electric company, but it provides natural gas to as many as 816,000 customers throughout central and southern Illinois, according to a release. This is delivered through an extensive network of 1,200 miles of large transmission pipes in a pipeline network spanning nearly 17,000 miles. This includes 12 underground storage fields. 

According to the release, Ameren Illinois crews perform "routine patrols and inspections of its natural gas pipelines, right-of-ways and facilities across service territory," "conduct regular maintenance and monitor equipment 24 hours a day and respond within the hour if an incident or leak is detected or reported. 

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One cause of leaks, Ameren Illinois said, is digging. They provide a free service to mark the location of all underground utilities. Illinois law requires anyone digging, regardless of depth, to call the locating service for their area. The Illinois program is called Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators (JULIE). The notice must be made within 48 hours of digging, and the project must begin within 14 days of calling JULIE at (800) 892-0123. 

Natural gas in its pure state is odorless and colorless. Ameren adds the smell of rotten eggs to make a leak easier to identify. If a gas leak is reported, Ameren Illinois claims to respond to them in an average of 22 minutes, and within 60 minutes in nearly all situations. 

To report a gas leak, call Ameren Illinois at (800) 755-5000. 

Besides smell, a gas leak can be detected by a hissing or roaring sound, an unusual area of dead vegetation, blowing dirt or bubbling water. If a gas leak is suspected, residents are advised to leave the premises quickly and contact Ameren once they reach safety. 

"Many times I have heard neighbors saying, 'I thought I smelled gas,' or even, 'we smelled gas for a week,' after we were called to the scene," past president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs' Association Sean Maloy said in a release. "If you smell gas in your home or business, leave the building immediately; get to a safe place and call Ameren Illinois." 

To ensure utilities do not cause gas leaks, Ameren Illinois advises a few things: 

  • Have a qualified heating contractor inspect your furnace annually. A properly tuned furnace saves energy and helps avoid costly repairs. 
  • Check the flue to make sure it is clean and open. Any fuel that does not burn completely can create harmful levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a gas with no color, odor or taste. It can collect in your home if a fuel-burning appliance isn't working properly or venting as it should. 
  • Keep forced-air furnace filters clean. Clean or replace them according to the manufacturer's recommendation. 
  • Avoid using or storing the following products near the furnace: paint stripper, fabric or water softener, bleach, adhesives, or salt for melting ice. The chlorine or fluorine in these items can lead to furnace corrosion. 
  • Keep your heat registers and cold-air returns clean so the air can flow properly. Also, arrange your furniture and drapes so they don't block the air flow. 

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