DOMESTIC GAS EXPLOSIONS – By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
During the past few weeks, Sri Lankans experienced an appalling condition where wives, cooks at various hotels and restaurants and other family members became subjected to explosions of many a kind due to the use of domestic LP gas out of cylinder explosions. There have been 244 explosions from the 1st of January to the 5th of December 2021. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed an eight-member committee to investigate recent reports of liquid petroleum (LP) gas cylinder fires and make recommendations within three days. The Committee, after the initial investigations, recommended the following guidelines for the public to follow. The Committee’s recommendations were as follows:
“(1) The public must ensure that the gas cylinders purchased have no leaks at the point of purchase. (2) Should there be a leak in an LP gas cylinder needs reporting to the local police and the Committee investigating by calling 011 5 811 927 or 011 5 811 929. (3) The Committee warns the public to refrain from using various methods that are not scientifically proven. (4) Leaks must only be tested by experts recognised by the Committee. (5) The Committee also stresses that there are no explosions of the gas cylinders out of the recent explosions! (6) The Committee also strongly advises ensuring that the Regulator connected to the cylinder, hose and cookers are not inferior quality (7) The Committee recommends that ( according to SLS) Regulators come under SLSW1180 and hoses 1172. (8) The Committee recommends a Regulator’s lifetime as (maximum ) five years and hoses up to two years. (9) Also, they advise the consumers to pay attention to the distinctive odour of the gas coming out of cylinders. (10) The Committee advises consumers NOT to remove any accessories ( such as Valves, Rubber Hoses). Finally, the Committee advises those living in individual houses to have a free flow of air wherever possible.
Inconvenience and Misery
Apart from the inconvenience caused to the public, one needs to consider the number of consumers injured directly due to gas explosions. Three persons became wounded on the 4th of November 2021. On the 16th of November, another explosion took place in a Rathnapura Restaurant. On the 20th of November, a well-known fast-food restaurant in Colombo 7 was entirely devastated by a fire caused by a gas leak. On the 29th of November, ten separate explosions took place in Hatton, Malliappuwa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Embulpitiya, Mawanella and Matara. The Committee consisting of an eight-member panel appointed by the President should investigate these explosions and consider who is responsible for paying compensation for such incidents where the whole kitchen area became violently shattered in various places? However, State Minister Alagiyawanna assured that on the 10th-night news coverage, the Govrenment would pay compensation.
On the 5th of December, ‘Ceylon Today’ newspaper carried a full-page advertisement from Laugfs Holdings. They defended the recent LP Gas cylinder mishaps due to ‘Improper Handling & ‘faulty Equipment ‘. They maintained that they always followed the specifications in connection with the LP gas and metal cylinders. Laugfs Holdings state that they recheck their equipment against all given standards by the Government to ensure the safety of their valued customers.
Their advertisement admits that a few fire incidents took place on LP gas leakages across the country in the recent past. However, the social and other media carried some misleading information on such leaks, directly accusing the gas companies of the composition of LP gas filled in a cylinder. Nevertheless, Laugfs Holdings claim that the recently reported incidents did not occur due to the composition of LP gas in the cylinders. They always follow the Government’s technical data, quoting SLS 712-1998 for LP gas SLS 1178-2013 for gas cylinders.
Have consumers heard of any gas explosions!
The LP gas is one of the safest, resourceful, ecosystem friendly, effective, and mostly the safest method used for cooking and catering. Sri Lankans have used LP domestic gas for many decades since 1970. Gas companies, namely Litro and Laufs, were blamed for amending the percentage of Propane and Butane inside the cylinder. These companies have come out stating that ” explosions have occurred mainly due to leakages from ‘ faulty regulators and from connecting hoses from the gas cylinder to the cooker, but not the cylinder itself!”
Although the gas companies and the policymakers try to brush the issue under the carpet and place the entire blame on the consumer, what is relevant would be to consider that the recent explosions are far too many to ignore. Today everyone who gets near the LP gas cylinder is so fearsome. Some women wear helmets when they use gas cookers! After the recent explosions, even the clay ovens that use coconut shells have gone up in price tremendously. Are we to gradually approach the basic ancient techniques of cooking?
Nevertheless, it should be okay with the village folk to go back to the ancient cooking methods of using the traditional hearths, commonly known as the “Lipa“, but how about the wealthy folk who live in townships with modern facilities manage? The only alternative is to spend the extra money and convert their cooking appliances to electricity. Here again, on the 4th of December 2021, the whole of Sri Lanka had a power outage in several areas of the country for six hours, placing the country in pitched darkness! It was allegedly due to suspected mechanical failure or sabotage by some engineers working to rule linked to electricity unions. Under the circumstances, how could the consumer find an alternative?
Origination of LP Gas
In 1970 Sri Lanka used LP gas for the first time, which contained a maximum combination of 30 % Propane and 70% Butane. Authorities considered such a combination would be the best ratio because the mixture of Propane and Butane inside a gas cylinder would be liquid under compression. If there are leaks in the pressure system, the cylinder’s absolute pressure will exert on the cooker, resulting in a fire! Therefore, experts advise that it is not the material’s fault, thus becoming the full responsibility of the decision-makers to ensure what is the safest composition for Sri Lankan consumers!
What amazes the consumer is that from 1970 onwards, Sri Lankan consumers used LP gas but did not experience explosions of this nature as seen recently within the last two months! So far, there have been ten explosions per day. What is interesting to note is what the Laufs company say about making 50% of Propane and 50% of Butane does not bring an additional income to the company! One tends to raise the question as to why did the gas companies alter the original percentages of Propane and Butane? Litro company has composition a ratio of 20% Propane and 80% Propane ( according to Aruna Newspaper).
Journalist receives a writ notification.
Meanwhile, a journalist who exposed these gas explosions received a summons to appear in a Sri Lankan Court. The writer must again point out that a journalist’s duty is ‘when there is a climate of fear, journalists have a commitment towards their vocation as much as according to their conscience to throw light on whatever injustice, or whether journalists’ comments are in the interest of the public! How are society, companies, or the Government be helped if they keep quiet? A journalists must point out that whenever a government or company goes out of rails to inform the public about their mistakes, they must raise with a wish to develop a moral society. Each person is socially and economically free to act. Similarly, journalists’ maintaining voluntary silence tends to be suicidal and undermines the brotherhood of a journalistic fraternity.
LP gas importers enjoy a monopoly in deciding the percentage of Propane and Butane configuration to be used because boiling points differ depending on each country in the world due to climatic conditions. Meanwhile, the Director of Engineering at the Engineering Standards Division (SLSI) states that measurements used for the quality of Domestic LP Gas in Sri Lanka are outdated! There is ” No Standard Measurement of the composition of LPG in Sri Lanka.” Therefore, his recommendation is to take immediate action to change the existing antiquated laws and systems.
Finally, The Consumer Affairs Authority directed the two major LP gas distributors to supply new LP gas cylinders with coloured polythene seals depicting their logo in different colours. – e.g., Litro gas to commence with a Red Logo on a white seal and Laugfs with a blue on a yellow background. The consensus is that the new gas cylinders need filling with fresh LP gas, but both companies have not changed their colour on gas cylinders. Consumers hope the new method will be safer to use. However, the Committee observed, valves, hoses, clips, and cookers should not be substandard but recommended by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute.
The latest is that the Sri Lanka Government wants to take the two significant distributors of LP gas, namely Litro and Laugfs, to Courts and seek a decision. Meanwhile, the nation sits on a ‘time bomb’ until a Court decision reaches as the whole country sits on a time bomb in a ‘volatile’ situation.