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LP gas cylinder explosions: Consumers in dire straits

05 Dec 2021

  • Govt. negligence led to this situation: NMPCR
  • LPG composition changed due to cost, alleges ETU
  • Laugfs claims cylinder incident due to human error 
By Maheesha Mudugamuwa Battered by the increasing cost of living in the midst of a pandemic, consumers now have to live in fear within their homes, due to a risk of possible explosions or fires linked to LP gas cylinders used for cooking. The added worry on the home front comes following a series of unusual incidents reported around the country during the past few weeks. Even though there were a few isolated cases reported since 2015, as pointed out by State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development, and Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanna, a sudden rise in such incidents was recorded from November this year, prompting the Government to temporarily suspend the distribution of LP gas cylinders last Friday (3) until further notice.  Subsequently, however, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) yesterday (4) permitted both companies supplying LP gas cylinders to the market – Laugfs and Litro – to recommence supply from today (5) under three conditions. The conditions are: not to release previously imported stocks, include a standard percentage of mercaptan to ensure there's a smell to determine a gas leak, and to conduct sample checks on every 1 in 100 cylinders. Many people are concerned and fearful, as the Government has not yet given a proper reason or solution for the possible risks, National Movement for the Protection of Consumer Rights (NMPCR) Chairman Ranjith Vithanage stressed. He told The Sunday Morning that the Government had neglected its duty to protect the lives of the citizens of this country, as they had not given a proper short-term solution to rule out any possible danger.  “Now, they are finding faults in the gas cookers and regulators that the consumers had been using until the recent explosions. Luckily, as of now, no deaths were reported, but if somebody died from an explosion, who would take the responsibility?” Vithanage questioned.  Several probes launched Given the unusual number of gas-related explosions and fires reported within a short period, several probes were launched into the spate of incidents. Additionally, last Tuesday (30 November), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed an eight-member expert committee to look into the reasons for the increasing number of LP gas cylinder-related explosions and fires, and recommend immediate solutions.  The committee is headed by Moratuwa University Chemical and Process Engineering Department Head Prof. Shantha Walpalage, and comprises of Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Deshabandu Tennakoon, Moratuwa University Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Sri Jayewardenepura University Prof. W.B.W. Jayathilake, Prof. Pradeep Jayaweera, Sri Lanka Inventors’ Commission Commissioner Prof. Narayan Sirimuthu, Industrial Technology Institute Additional Director General Dr. Sudarshana Somasiri, and Sri Lanka Standards Institute Senior Deputy Director Sujeewa Mahagama. Meanwhile, it was reported that a police probe was also underway. Senior DIG Tennakoon was appointed as the Co-ordinating Officer for the police investigations into the accidents caused by leaks, fires, or explosions in domestic gas cylinders. Representatives from Litro and Laugfs were also appointed to assist in the police investigations, as per reports. In the event of a gas accident in any area, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the relevant area should inform the relevant gas company and the OIC of the relevant division. These instructions were sent by IGP C.D. Wickramaratne to senior DIGs in charge of provinces and districts and the officers in charge of divisions. No regulations on gas composition Meanwhile, speaking to the media last Monday (29 November), State Minister Alagiyawanna told Parliament that a total of 233 gas explosion incidents were reported from January 2015 to 31 October this year, while admitting that there was an unusual increase in gas explosion incidents recently.  The Minister said there had been no regulation of domestic gas since it was first introduced in 1960, while the several state institutions, such as the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) and Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI), were vested with this responsibility. He claimed that Sri Lanka lacked regulations governing the composition of gas (i.e. propane: butane) in the LP gas cylinders used for domestic purposes. The State Minister also noted that 12 gas samples, which were taken from Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kurunegala, Ratnapura, and Galle, were sent to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for tests, and that the reports would be submitted to the Moratuwa University for study.  Against such a backdrop, differing views were being expressed about the cause of these explosions. Some speculated that a change of pressure caused by the change in the gas composition could be the cause. ‘Composition changed for financial benefit’ Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Energy Trade Union (ETU) Convener Ananda Palitha alleged that the recent gas-related explosions were a result of a change in the composition of the gas, which was done for financial benefit. “The price of propane is lower than the price of butane, and the reason for the pressure hike in the gas cylinder is the increase of the propane percentage. When the propane percentage is increased, the pressure is also increased in parallel,” he stressed. Referring to the Government’s statement that there were no SLSI standards governing the composition of LP gas, Palitha stressed that the accepted composition percentages were either 30%:70% or 20%:80% (propane:butane), which was adhered to in Sri Lanka for many years until the recent change introduced by Litro. He also added: “When government ministers are speaking about the gas-related incidents, they’re speaking like Litro is a private gas company like Laugfs, which it is not. “Litro is a state-owned company, and therefore, the entire responsibility lies not just with the management of Litro but with the entire Government,” Palitha alleged.  Litro, Laugfs defend themselves Meanwhile, issuing a media statement, Litro Gas Lanka stated that Sri Lanka adheres to internationally ratified compositions of propane and butane, certified and tested twice at point of loading and unloading by GEO-CHEM Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. The company then assured that the LP gas that is loaded onto the ship at the supplier point is unloaded at Kerawalapitiya and stored in LP gas storage spheres, after which point cylinders of varied sizes are filled in the factory. The entire process, which is done under the strictest safety standards, does not involve any tampering in Sri Lanka, while LP gas is stored and filled into cylinders with the same specifications they have been shipped. Concerning safety, Litro Gas Lanka Channel Safety Advisor Hemachandra Gunathilake stated that the globally accepted best practices should be deployed at all times when handling LP gas for cooking or for any other purpose. This means checking the hose, the regulator, the cooker, and the connecting system, which includes the safety clip of the cylinder, according to the statement. Meanwhile, issuing a media statement, Laugfs Gas stated that it follows its own specifications related to LP gas and metal cylinders, and rechecks them against the given standards and specifications to ensure the safety of its customers.   “Propane is an expensive gas compared to butane. Last year, propane and butane prices were equal for only two months, but in the past, propane prices were much higher than butane. Certain social media reports stated that cylinders and valves are not capable of handling the high pressure inside the cylinder created by the additional propane. But the cylinders and valves are built to store LP gas at a high inside pressure,” Laugfs’ statement read.  Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Laugfs Chairman W.K.H. Wegapitiya said the company guarantees that it follows all specifications and added that only one Laugfs Gas related incident was reported, which was a result of human error.  Safety guidelines issued In the meantime, even though a fixed solution had not been given by the expert committee recently appointed by the President, it nevertheless issued a series of guidelines for the public to follow to minimise and prevent such incidents from taking place. It advised to ensure that the gas cylinder is inspected for leaks at the point of purchase; if there is a suspected leak in a domestic LP gas cylinder, the gas cylinder in question should be placed outside with good airflow, and the sales agent, local police, and the committee investigating such an incident should be immediately notified on 0115 811 927 or 0115 811 929.  

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