ECONOMYNEXT – A spate of fire accidents reported in Sri Lanka in recent days involving liquid petroleum (LP) cooking gas cylinders appear to be linked to gas leaks, a government official said on Thursday as worried customers awaited clear safety precautions from the authorities.

At least four gas leak explosions occurred across the country, namely in Pannipitiya, Palamadulla, Rathnapura and Kurunduwatta, Colombo, in November alone, according to police reports.

“The explosions happened due to the LP gas that leaked mixing with oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere,” Roshan Fernando, Senior Assistant Government Analyst of the Government Analyst’s Department said.

“I must inform you that the cylinders have not exploded in any of the incidents that have been reported.

“Today, we investigated an explosion that happened in Kottawa,” he said, referring to a Colombo suburb town.

“The gas in the atmosphere had ignited due to a light bulb. In that house, a metal clip that we use to secure the gas pipe to the cylinder was also not there. The gas has leaked due to that.”

A key government official at the state-run Consumers’ Affairs Authority (CAA) after his resignation recently claimed that gas companies have changed the proportions of the two gases used inside the cylinder. A widely circulated interview with the official added to consumers’ concerns.

Thushan Gunawardena, the former executive director of the CAA, said gas companies have changed the butane proportion from 70 percent to 50 percent and that could also have contributed to the explosion.

“We are investigating these incidents because these leakages are less than 1 percent of the cylinders we supply to the market per month,” W K H Wegapitiya, chairman of Laugfs Gas Plc, told EconomyNext.

However, Wegapitiya said the fires reported were not related to the cylinders but was rather an issue with the appliances use cylinders don’t explode.

“All these are due to human negligence,” he said.

Laugfs gas accounts for 20 percent of the LP gas market share in Sri Lanka.

Consumer Affairs Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna said they have discussed the measures that are already in place and further measures to be taken in the future with experts.

“In the next two-three weeks we will work on issuing gazettes and regulations that need to protect consumers our country,” Minister Alagiyawana said.

“Quality assurance is mandatory in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Accreditation Board is the body that regulated the laboratories that do quality assurance in Sri Lanka.

“We have asked the Accreditation Board to register two laboratories that do quality testing when gas is imported to Sri Lanka. It is to strengthen the system and to assure the quality of the gas we import.

Previously, five gazettes had been issued in 2012 regarding the quality of the gas cylinder, regulators and other equipment,” the minister said.

LP gas leaks occur for a couple of reasons caused by a lack of knowledge by LPG consumers and improper usage, Wegapitiya said.

A composition change in the LP gas cocktail – Butane and Propane – caused the explosions after the traditionally used proportion of 70:30 was changed to 50:50, officials have said.

However, Wegapitiya said there was no logic behind the allegation of increasing propane in the cocktail because it is the more expensive of the two gases.

Domestic gas leaks often happen due to poorly fixed or fitted regulators leading to leaks and gas tubes that are not replaced in time or damaged by pests, and if the user keeps the stove on without igniting, or due to substandard appliances.

Sri Lanka does not have a gas regulatory body. Gas company officials said they have their own investigation units to conduct studies. (Colombo/Nov25/2021)