Put Public Safety First
A series of explosions, likely associated with cylinders of domestic Liquid Petroleum Gas, rocked the country this month, causing panic among the public and raising doubts about the safety of domestic LP gas, and more importantly, posing serious questions about the priority given by the authorities to public safety.
By Friday (26) evening, a total of five explosions were reported this month. The first explosion was reported at a hotel in Weligama on 4 November, where three people were injured. The explosion reportedly had taken place inside the kitchen at the hotel. Then, on 16 November, a woman was injured during an explosion allegedly caused by an LP gas cylinder at a private restaurant close to the Ratnapura Bus Stand, where several others sustained minor burns.
The third incident was reported from a popular fast food outlet on Reid Avenue, Colombo, on 20 November, where a gas cylinder exploded causing the restaurant to go up in flame. Then, on Thursday, 25 November, an explosion was caused by a domestic gas cylinder at a house close to the College Junction in Hokandara, causing serious damage to property.
The fifth incident was reported on Friday (26), where an explosion has occurred in a house in the Kandegedara area in Nikaweratiya, which was suspected to be caused by a domestic gas cylinder explosion. The house was severely damaged due to the fire that erupted following the explosion.
Fortunately, except for minor burns and injuries, no individual has been seriously injured in any one of these incidents. Yet, with the increasing number of incidents reported from various parts of the country, the likelihood of a fatality due to a domestic gas cylinder explosion may not be far away.
Interestingly, so far, neither the companies which are authorised to sell LP gas in Sri Lanka nor the State authorities responsible for public safety has given a satisfactory answer to the burning questions: What is causing the sudden spate of domestic gas cylinder explosions, and what is being done to prevent it from recurring?
A few months ago, Thushan Gunawardena, former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) came up with a bombshell allegation that gas companies have changed the Butane/Propane composition from 70/30 ratio to 50/50, which has been vehemently denied by the gas companies.
Gunawardena claimed there is an SLS standard for gas cylinders, but, there is no standard for the gas composition, meaning that the company can change gas composition as they please.
Following the series of explosions, Litro Gas Lanka Chemical Reaction Engineer Jayantha Basnayake said on Wednesday, 24 November, there is no change in the composition of the domestic LP gas cylinders. He added that SLS 712 air pressure standard is provided by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution and that the mixture is made according to the climate of Sri Lanka: “This equation varies for India and other developing countries. The composition is produced according to the standards required by our country.”
LAUGFS Gas PLC also issuing a statement said they adhere to the 70/30 Butane/Propane composition and no decision has ever been taken to change the composition to 50/50.
Nevertheless, on Thursday (25), before even an independent investigation could be conducted to ascertain what caused the sudden increase in the number of LP gas cylinder explosions, Senior Assistant Government Analyst Rushan Fernando appeared at a Media briefing conducted by Consumer Affairs State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, where the blame was squarely placed on the public for improper use of LP gas. He categorically said the explosions occurred due to the LP gas that leaked mixing with oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere.
This raised questions among critics on how ethical it was for a senior State official to appear alongside a Government Minister, on a matter of high public interest, before an investigation was conducted on the allegation of changes made to the composition of LP gas sold in this country.
The critics stressed the Government Analyst’s Department should remain robustly independent, without any political bias and should only serve the interests of the public. According to critics, independence of the Government Analyst’s Department was crucial to ensure the proper rule of law and the judicial process. Any political bias displayed by such a State entity could lead to a serious breakdown of public trust placed on the few institutions which are still deemed to be independent.
However, the crux of the matter is, the number of explosions related to domestic LP gas cylinders has seen a remarkable increase this month. If there is an allegation of unauthorised change to the composition, then it is the duty of the Government as well as State entities such as Government Analyst’s Department to get to the bottom of the issue.
People have already started panicking. Many are looking for alternatives to LP gas. For people, nothing is more important than the safety of their loved ones. It is time for the Government also to pay at least some attention to this burning issue of public safety, without trying to brush it under the carpet of ‘political conspiracies’.