Government denies gas cylinder composition caused explosions

Pamodi Waravita and Aazam Ameen

As a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder-based explosion that occurred yesterday (25) in Pannipitiya added to the list of such explosions around the country this month, the Government has vehemently denied reports and allegations that the butane-to-propane gas compositional ratio in gas cylinders had been changed and led to these explosions.

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development, and Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanna claimed that the butane-to-propane compositional ratio in gas cylinders currently in the market is 70:30, respectively, and has not been changed.

“The composition of gas in the cylinders in the market is 70% butane and 30% propane. It is not economically viable for us either to increase the percentage of propane in a cylinder, as it would cost the company (Litro Gas Lanka Ltd.) more. We also had a meeting with the Government Analyst’s (GA) Department, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Litro Gas Lanka, and Laugfs Gas PLC. They will also be releasing a joint media statement regarding the matter and on these allegations soon,” Alagiyawanna told The Morning yesterday.

A daily newspaper reported yesterday that the GA’s Department has confirmed that the recent gas explosions that took place in Colombo, Weligama, and Kandy were a result of a dangerous and irregular 50:50 butane-to-propane ratio of gas composition.

However, in a press release issued yesterday, the GA’s Department denied the allegation that the gas composition had led to the recent explosions. “The report on 23 November regarding the fire that occurred at the McDonald’s restaurant in Racecourse, Colombo 7 states that liquid petroleum gas has leaked inside the restaurant. The explosion occurred due to an electrical equipment that had been turned on during that time, leading to the fire,” it read.

However, the press release does not provide details of the other explosions that occurred recently.

During the past month, several explosions were reported at both industrial commercial establishments as well as the domestic household level, including two restaurants in Weligama and Colombo 7 as well as a bakery in Ratnapura. The most recent incident was reported at a residence in Kottawa, Pannipitiya early last morning, the Police said. No casualties were reported from the incident, despite severe damages to the residence.

Speaking to The Morning, Litro Gas Lanka Chairman Theshara Jayasinghe assured that the composition of gas in the cylinders has not been changed in an unsafe manner, adding: “The composition is 30% propane and 70% butane. We are strictly in compliance with the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI).”

Meanwhile, Laugfs Gas Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Chaminda Ediriwickrama told The Morning that there is no relationship between the product composition and the incidents of the recent explosions.

“Statements made by certain individuals which detail that these fires occurred because of a composition change are totally false. These fires erupted purely due to negligence and failure to properly follow kitchen safety protocols. The people holding the responsibility of implementing such safety standards should be held responsible,” he said.

When queried about whether the product composition was in fact changed, Ediriwickrama denied that such a step was taken, stating: “Our product composition did not change. We maintain a ratio of 70% butane and 30% propane in each cylinder, with a deviance of around plus or minus 5%. The rest of the world uses a ratio of 50:50. However, the formula we use is accepted in this part of the world. Our competitor also uses the same ratio.”

Speaking on the explosion which occurred at the Racecourse complex recently, he said that the gas cylinders were left intact. “What happened was that the staff were working till 3 a.m. and they forgot to switch off some gas-powered appliances. Later on, someone turned a light on and that spark was enough to cause the whole kitchen to burn down,” he stated.

Meanwhile, at a press conference held on Wednesday (24), Litro Gas Lanka Director of Sales and Marketing and Corporate Affairs Janaka Pathirana said the allegation that the gas composition has been dangerously changed “has no basis or truth and is merely made to cause fear in the public, whilst discrediting the Government and the institution”. He stressed that the approximately six million domestic Litro Gas cylinders currently in circulation in the market all meet international market standards.

Speaking at the same media briefing, Litro Gas Lanka Director of Health, Safety, and Environment Jayantha Basnyake said: “When we get gas from a ship, we get a status report. We constantly check these status reports for the correct parameters and standards. Before the gas is shipped, an independent international report is given. When the ship is near our ports, we take another independent report and check whether it meets the SLSI’s 12th Standard and only then is it distributed to the market.

“None of the recent explosions were because the cylinders themselves exploded. With regard to the recent incident at the Racecourse, our institution did not supply the gas or make the pipeline. In the previous explosions, investigations show that there were problems in the hose or the outer equipment which are connected to the cylinders and that, that had led to the gas leaks.”

Former CAA Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena told The Morning earlier this year that test samples from the 18 litre gas cylinder and 12.5 kg gas cylinder of both Litro Gas Lanka and Laugfs Gas have found that they contain a 50:50 composition of butane and propane.

“This is dangerous for domestic use and we are, therefore, concerned about the safety of the public. The usual composition is 80% of butane and 20% of propane. We have informed the relevant ministries regarding the matter,” Gunawardena told The Morning at the time.

The 18 litre gas cylinder was then removed from market circulation by Litro Gas Lanka. Gunawardena, speaking to the media recently, has blamed the gas companies for the recent kitchen explosions.

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