The gassy standard
The spate of explosions which are said to have been caused by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders leaking gas appears to be becoming an even bigger issue than the all-consuming Covid-19 pandemic, and different opinions expressed by various parties and the lack of action on the part of the authorities have pushed the people unto a state of uncertainty.
Even though some have downplayed the seriousness of this issue, while some have exaggerated it, the people’s fear as to how to deal with the gas cylinders that may cause a fire or an explosion at any moment is justifiable, as such incidents have seen an alarming rise. On 29 November alone, 10 fires and explosions suspected to have been caused by leaking gas cylinders were reported, sending shockwaves through households around the country.
While various opinions have been expressed as to the underlying reasons behind these explosions, the most discussed allegation is that the composition of LPG cylinders issued to the market has been changed recently, leading to a change in the cylinder pressure. Although this has not been officially corroborated or denied by the Government, State Minister of the Co-operative Services, Marketing Development, and Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanna has admitted that the process for issuing standards certificates for LPG does not involve evaluating the compositional ratio of butane and propane, and that the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) only considers the gas cylinder pressure, which was a main measurement introduced as far back as 1998. He also said that despite having started the circulation of LPG since the 1960s, the country has failed to regulate it properly.
This lack of standards is not an issue that can be attributed to one government or a single group of officials at the SLSI or at other institutions. If Sri Lanka did not have proper standards concerning the quality and composition of LPG since 1998, according to Alagiyawanna, what it shows is a grave lethargy on the part of the politicians of several governments and a lack of national policies concerning standards.
What’s more, it shows that the authorities of the relevant institutions have been complacent about the standards that have a direct impact on the people’s lives and saw no need for improvement or update, resulting in them merely maintaining the standards that were in place for decades.
Even though no concrete data has still been revealed to suggest a link between the composition of LPG and these explosions, LPG, as a commodity that involves safety concerns in addition to quality concerns, must receive more attention, and the regular update of standards that concern its quality is necessary.
This is a big wake up call for the Government and the responsible authorities to understand that the lack of standards and outdated standards can both be dangerous. The much-anticipated report on the quality and composition of LPG, which was to be represented to Parliament on 29 November, was not presented. However, the Government and the authorities need to make this report a starting point to take a number of short and long-term measures to ensure consumers safety.
The short-term measures will depend on what the report reveals, but must include, among others, updating standards requirements for LPG and removing from the market all LPG cylinders if the explosions have anything to do with the quality of the LPG or cylinders. As a long-term measure, it must introduce a national policy enabling and requiring the relevant State institutions such as the SLSI to regularly identify gaps between local and international policies and standards.
Most importantly, such policies should cover all products, not just LPG, and the relevant companies should also be an integral and responsible party in the implementation of such.