Domestic Gas Explosions
Posted on December 24th, 2021

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando 

Domestic Gas Explosions

During the past few weeks, wives, cooks at various hotels and restaurants and other family members were shocked by gas explosions originating from the domestic liquid petroleum (LP) gas cylinder. From 1 January to 5 December 2021 there were 244 explosions. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed an eight-member committee to investigate the recent report of LP gas cylinder fires and to submit their recommendations within three days. The Committee, after the initial investigation, recommended the following guidelines for the public to follow. 

The Committee’s recommendations:

(1) To ensure the gas cylinder purchased has no leaks at the point of purchase.

(2) A gas leak needs to be reported to the local police and the investigating committee by calling 011 5 811 927 or 011 5 811 929.  

(3) To refrain from using various methods that are not scientifically proven. 

(4) Leaks must only be tested by experts recognised by the committee.

(5) No gas cylinders exploded in the recent explosions.

(6) To ensure the regulator is not of inferior quality. 

(7) To ensure the regulators come under SLS W1180 and hoses SLS 1172. 

(8) A regulator’s lifetime is (maximum) five years and hoses up to two years. 

(9) To pay attention to the distinctive odour of the gas coming out of cylinders.

(10) Not to remove any accessories (such as Valves, Rubber Hoses).  

(11) To ensure there is a free flow of air around the cylinder.

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 were wounded on 4 November. On 16 November, another explosion took place in a Ratnapura Restaurant. On 20 November, a 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 Government would pay compensation.

On 5 December, Ceylon Today carried a full-page advertisement from Laugfs Holdings. They defended the recent LP Gas cylinder mishaps due to ‘Improper Handling & ‘faulty Equipment ‘.  They maintain they always follow the specifications in connection with LP gas and metal cylinders.  Laugfs Holdings state they recheck their equipment against all given Government standards to ensure the customer safety.

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 misleading information on such leaks, directly accusing 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 and SLS 1178-2013 for gas cylinders.

Gas explosions!

LP gas is resourceful, ecosystems friendly, effective and a safe way to cook. Sri Lankans have used LP domestic gas since 1970. Gas companies, namely Litro and Laugfs, 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 gas companies and policymakers try to brush the issue under the carpet and place the entire blame on the consumer, what is relevant is that the recent explosions are far too many to ignore. Today everyone who gets near the LP gas cylinder does so in fear. Some women wear helmets when they use gas cookers! After the recent explosions, even the coconut shells used in clay ovens have rocketed in price. Are we to gradually approach the basic ancient techniques of cooking?

Nevertheless, the village folk would not mind going back to the ancient cooking methods of using the traditional hearths, commonly known as the lipa, but how can the wealthy folk who live in townships with modern facilities manage? Their only alternative is to spend the extra money and convert their cooking appliance to electricity. Here again, on the 4 December, 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 a 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, with 30 per cent Propane and 70 per cent 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 the consumer. 

What amazes the consumer is that from 1970 onwards, LP gas was used but no one experienced 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 the Laugfs Company says the composition of 50 per cent of Propane and 50 per cent 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? According to Media reports Litro Gas has a composition in the ratio of 20 per cent Propane and 80 per cent Butane.

Journalist receives a writ notification

A journalist who exposed these gas explosions was summoned to appear in Court. The writer points out that journalists when there is a climate of fear, have a commitment towards their vocation and their conscience to throw light on whatever injustice in the interest of the public! How can society, companies, or the Government be helped if they keep quiet?  Journalists must point out that whenever a Government or company goes off the rails to inform the public about their mistakes. They contribute to developing a moral society. Each person is socially and economically free to act. Similarly, journalists’ maintaining a 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 in each country 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 with a red logo on a white seal and Laugfs with a blue on a yellow background. The consensus is the new gas cylinders need to be re-filled with fresh LP gas, but neither company has changed their colour on the gas cylinders yet.  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 the Government wants to take the two LP gas distributors, namely Litro and Laugfs, to Courts and seek a decision. Meanwhile, the Nation sits on a time bomb in a volatile situation until the Courts decision is reached.

One Response to “Domestic Gas Explosions”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Explosions due to faulty gas equipment and manipulation of gas composition by vendors!

    If I am not mistaken there are over 400,000 gas cylinders in operation in Sri Lanka, mostly connected to a humble table top gas cooker. Out of these up until recently only 458 incidents have been recorded. Of these According to findings of the Committee appointed 277 were only cases of gas leaking,

    “It has been observed that 244 out of the total 458 incidents were complaints of leaks (as opposed to damaged cylinders, hoses, regulators, etc). Over the past few days, the public has been keen to check the condition of their gas cylinders and have reported such leaks,” Walpola said.

    According to the findings, there has been only one incident where a gas cylinder sustained damages, while 178 cases of gas cookers exploding or the cookers’ glass tops cracking, possibly suggesting an unusually hot flame.

    The committee urged the public to refrain from testing for gas leaks using unsafe methods.

    The second cause for gas related issues the committee has found is substandard or expired equipment such regulators, gas supply pipes, hose clips and dilapidated furnaces.

    If this is the case then the incidents are less than 0.125%! This is not to say even a single incident should be disregarded. Ideally there should be 0% incidents. On the other hand, what is shown clearly is that the incidents are not ‘pressure related’ for all the rest of users are using gas without incident. They are to do with inferior or substandard / warranty expired equipment such as valves, gas regulators, supply hoses, hose clips and mostly desktop gas cookers. The US and Australia uses 100% Propane in domestic use gas cylinders!

    For gas explosions, obviously there should be leaked gas outside that explode on ignition due to either high temperature or any other flame initiator – lighting a match stick, opening or closing of light switch or even the use of static creating device such as a mobile phone. The cracking of the glass top cannot be due to any temperature difference as the maximum temperature that can be reached is around 1950 deg C. This temperature is not any differernt to any combination of the gases – 100% Propane to 100% Butane. It is most probably due to the explosion shock wave. The above temperature is good enough to start secondary fires in the vicinity of the explosion.

    In summary, the actual situation is not any different to the Committee findings. Most explosions are due to substandard equipment and improper usage. Obviously if there is a change in gas composition – an increase in the Propane content, that is going to lead to higher pressures inside the gas cylinder. These gas cylinders can withstand a pressure of ~70 atmospheres before the cylinder itself explodes due to internal pressure alone. Usually if a Pressure Relief Valve is incorporated to the cylinder it is set to go off around 25 atmospheres. For an ambient temperature of 30 deg C the maximum gas pressure from 100% Propane is ~10 atmospheres, 50% Propane and 50% Butane is 6 atmospheres and those from a mixture of 30% Propane and 70% Butane is around ~4 atmospheres. However, for all combinations of gas compositions the Gas Regulator is supposed to release gas at 11” of water column or 0.4 psig.

    Then this can be more if the Gas Regulator is faulty leading to increase of gas leaks from all possible gas connections. The gas accumulation in unventilated surroundings lead to explosions when ignition is initiated when gas/oxygen ratio is optimum for ignition.

    The sudden increase in the incidences of gas explosions can only be due to already malfunctioning gas equipment – faulty valves, gas regulators, hoses, hose connections and gas cookers coupled to increase in pressure due to manipulation of the gas composition by vendors. Thus vendors as well as the users are both at fault!

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