Why Does My Neighborhood Smell Like Sulfur?

Nick Durante
by Nick Durante
Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s hard to miss the smell of sulfur; the scent is quite distinct and unpleasant. The smell is even more unpleasant when it’s in your neighborhood and even your home. So, why does my neighborhood smell like sulfur?

Your neighborhood likely smells strongly like sulfur because of a sewer gas leak in the area. Hydrogen sulfide, or sewer gas, smells like sulfur and rotten eggs, and the wind can carry it quite far throughout your neighborhood. Well water bacteria and freshly paved roads in your neighborhood can also explain the sulfur smell in the area.

You will also consistently smell sulfur if you live near a sulfur mine. Contact your local water and sewer department if the sulfur smell in your neighborhood won’t subside. Follow along as we explore why your neighborhood smells like sulfur.

What Causes A Sulfur Smell In The Air Outside?

Whether it be proximity to a sulfur mine or a nearby sewer gas leak, several things can explain why your neighborhood smells like sulfur. Don’t panic if your neighborhood smells like sulfur, as the problem is rarely an emergency. Let’s look at the most common reasons why your neighborhood smells like sulfur to ease your mind and see what you can do about it.

Sewer Gas

Sewers run under every neighborhood, and gas builds up within them. The gas is safe to breathe in small doses, but it becomes toxic when it is concentrated. Aside from human waste, sewers also often contain runoff liquids and gases from nearby businesses.

The waste breaks down and turns into hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is flammable and dangerous to ingest, and it can slowly build up within a sewer system. It can eventually leak out into your neighborhood via weak points in the system’s pipes.

If you’re new to the neighborhood, you may want to speak to your neighbors and see if the sulfur smell is typical in the area. Call your local water and sewer department if the sulfur smell persists in your neighborhood. Contact a plumber if you suspect that the sulfur smell is coming from a broken drainpipe in your home.

Well Water Bacteria

Do you have a well in your yard? Whether you have a well or your neighbors have wells, you may smell sulfur because of bacteria in the well water. Wells are susceptible to sulfur bacteria, which can taint the smell and taste of the water.

The odor may spread throughout your neighborhood when the wind picks up, and that explains why you smell it. Luckily, sulfur bacteria isn’t harmful to humans, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it alone. You must treat well water with chlorine to kill the sulfur bacteria.

It can take up to a few weeks to kill sulfur bacteria in water. Extreme temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can also kill sulfur bacteria in a well. The smell and taste of sulfur will subside once you kill the bacteria.

Fresh Sulfur

Check the roads in your neighborhood when you smell sulfur to see if they have been paved recently. Roads smell quite strongly like sulfur for the first 3 days after paving. The smell may continue to linger for a week after that, but it’s the strongest in the first 3 days.

Wind can carry the smell of sulfur from nearby neighborhoods and roads as well, and that can be confusing. Large roads require more sulfur, of course, so they are more likely to smell strong. Be patient and wait a few days for the smell to subside, then enjoy the smooth, paved roads.

You Live Near A Sulfur Mine

Believe it or not, sulfur mining is a huge industry in the United States. You can find sulfur mines in several states, such as Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona, and Alaska. If you live in one of these states and your neighborhood smells like sulfur, it may simply be because you live near a sulfur mine.

As you can imagine, sulfur mines contain lots of sulfur and smell quite strong. Depending on how close you live to the mine, you may be able to smell it even when the wind isn’t blowing. Otherwise, your neighborhood will likely smell like sulfur on windy days.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about the sulfur smell in your neighborhood if you live near a sulfur mine.

Why Does My House Smell Like Sulfur?

Check the drainpipes in your home if your house smells like sulfur. Sewer gas can escape through the drains in your house if the P-trap is empty. P-traps rely on water to keep sewer gas at bay, and the gas will dry out once it escapes.

Does your house smell like sulfur when you run the hot water? If so, then that means there is likely a problem with your water heater. The anode within a water heater can wear out over time and the unit will produce a sulfur smell.

It’s important to replace the anode right away, or else your water heater will become vulnerable to corrosion. Some types of drywall also contain sulfur, particularly drywall made in China, and that can also explain the sulfur smell in your house.

Is The Smell Of Sewer Gas Dangerous?

The smell of sewer gas can be dangerous, but it’s not too dangerous at the level most people encounter it. Mild exposure can cause eye and lung irritation when you inhale sewer gas. You can also experience headaches, irritability, nausea, and dizziness from sewer gas exposure.

That said, the biggest thing to worry about is that sewer gas, or hydrogen sulfide, is flammable and even explosive. The city or county needs to catch sewer gas leaks early before they become severe. Report the smell of sulfur if you suspect a sewer gas leak, so your municipality can investigate and fix the problem before it’s too late.

Summing It Up

Sewer gas and bacteria in a nearby well can explain why your neighborhood smells like sulfur. Your neighborhood will also smell like sulfur for at least a few days if the roads were recently paved with sulfur. Unfortunately, the smell of sulfur will persist in your neighborhood if you live near a sulfur mine.

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Nick Durante
Nick Durante

Nick Durante is a professional writer with a primary focus on home improvement. When he is not writing about home improvement or taking on projects around the house, he likes to read and create art. He is always looking towards the newest trends in home improvement.

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