Gas shops and stations, a time bomb [Archives:2003/662/Reportage]

August 25 2003
Gas shops, lack of safety procedures
Gas shops, lack of safety procedures
By Salah Saleh Ahmed
Yemen Times, Taiz

“I was preparing tea for me and my flat-mate when all at once I was covered with flames” said Fadhil Yahya Qaid who is currently admitted for 50 days now in al-Thawra hospital due to third-degree burns.
This is an example of general phrases we occasionally hear even for various causes though the final result is rather the same. And this man is one of the many victims of liquefied gas leakage from cylinders. These cylinders should have been tested accurately before selling them to consumers. They should be stored in proper places and the gas should be mixed with chemicals emitting distinct smell acting as a warning of gas leakage. What happens is exactly the opposite. There are dependable standards regarding shops selling gas cylinders, cylinders are not filled completely, and there is no distinguishable smell mixed in it.
Dr. Salah Abdulghani Abdullah, a doctor in the burns section of al-Thawra Hospital commented on this issue by saying: “Most of burns cases are due to explosions caused by gas leakage. This is mostly because the particular smell is not there so the person does not notice the leakage or because of a defects in the cylinder's gas-flow controller”. Yearly around 200 patients visit the hospital due to such explosions, this in addition to those who come for follow- up, Dr. Abdullah added.

Rising record
Situation is getting worse every day. In Taiz alone 200 victims per year, yielding around 5 or 6 thousand affected persons, either handicapped, or mutilated.
Meanwhile, prices of medicines used to cure injuries caused by burns of gas explosion incidents rise quickly and steadily, that is if they are available regularly. So only those who are well- off can afford to get adequate medication or to be admitted to the hospital. No consolation for the poor, they'll just have to live with pain, then the consequences. This is why Dr. Salah Abdullah also beckoned people to donate and help in buying required medicines and medical instruments.

Stores of danger
To have a cylinder exploding in a home or a restaurant is a big problem, but to have 400 or 500 gas cylinders exploding in one of the many gas shops scattered in the lanes of Taiz city, is a real tragedy. True that there are standards required by the Yemeni Petroleum Company Taiz branch before granting gas cylinder shop's license. But unfortunately there is no follow- up and no investigation that the conditions are satisfactorily safe. Conditions such as good ventilation, paving the ground with sand or small stones, at least 500 meters between each shop, remote location from populated areas, to provide fire extinguishers and many other precautionary measures are necessary measures but there is no follow-up for verifying the existence of such conditions.
Dr. Khalid Mujahid al-Asbahi secretary of the Yemeni Society for Consumer Protection in Taiz said about this issue: “Gas cylinders selling and exchanging shops have spread randomly in the inhibited quarters in Taiz with no regards to safety measures or conditions. Even grocery shops owners decided to try their hands in this trade seeking more profits with no consideration to the dangers that their actions could cause”.
Mr. Najeeb Mansour al-Aoj deputy manager at the Yemeni Gas Company indicated that the company intends to carry out a survey to evaluate the gas cylinders' shops in coordination with the concerned authorities, the municipality and the civil defense etc and that there is an urgent need to elevate the quality of these shops from all technical aspects and safety measures needed to be ensured according to rules and regulations.

Service or curse
Of the main problems with gas cylinders is the lack of the chemical with distinguished smell in the cylinders. A chemical called the Nitrahydrotheofin is added to the gas so as to warn when leakage. Dr. al-Asbahi points to this fact saying: “Gas cylinders have become more of a curse than a service because without this chemical people choke or get burned without previous notice. For 4 or 5 years and this material is not added to gas cylinders, causing the consumer to panic and worry.” While Mr. al-Aoj said that the company in cooperating with the district authorities is monitoring gas filling, however he pointed out that the consumption of domestic gas has increased rapidly lately and is being used in various applications other than home cooking.
The Yemeni Gas Company does not do much in this regard. Its supervision is merely words without deeds. The company is demanded to compel gas stations to abide by the regulations and satisfy the conditions and not play around with the filling amount as it disposes half filled cylinders to the market. Dr. al-Asbahi indicted this fact when he said: “Many consumers complain that the cylinder gets empty much earlier than expected. Instead of the 25-30 days in average, the gas cylinder hardly lasts to more than 18 days now, in addition to the rise in price.”

Gas filling Stations, shameful status
The number of the filling stations has multiplied whereas the quality of service has deteriorated. The most basic safety requirements are missing; you find giant containers that could explode at the slightest spark but not even a single fire extinguisher.
Finding out who's responsible for this degrading situation and all the threats facing safety of the city, forced us to talk to Mr. al-Aoj who replied: “Instructions from prime minister have been issued regarding this case and the distribution of gas cylinders in the inhibited localities all around the republic. Both the Yemeni Gas Company and the ministry of Petroleum are committed to the instructions and hope that all other concerned authorities are committed as well so that together we could prevent giving license to any station that violates the regulations.”

Unsatisfied safety measures
In Taiz alone there are four gas filling stations whereas the demand could be satisfied with just one and that too not only for Taiz but for 4 governorates namely, Taiz, Ibb, Abyan and Lahj. All of which hardly fulfill the required standards. So where is the “continuous communication between the Yemeni Gas Company with the Station owners and civil defense department at the ministry of interior to enforce rules and regulations?”
We asked what the station thought about the fact that most of fire incidents happened due to the lack of the smell material. What came over the defected gas cylinders that are still in the market place? Why are the cylinders half full? Why is there no supervision from the management of the station on the “automatic” filling process? What authority do you have to enforce a number of security points in the Naqeel al-Ibil road? You said in an earlier interview that you spent around 13 million USD for security measures, what came over that and are they implemented in other stations?
These were the questions asked to Mr. Tawfeeq Abdulraheem owner of two gas filling stations in Taiz who displayed complete carelessness and arrogance in answering and refused to reply to the questions pretending that the responsibility of all above is not his. A reaction that tells a lot about the absence of supervision and accountability to deter such people, a remark we place before the Yemeni gas company.

In conclusion
What is going on is a direct result of negligence and carelessness, consequences of which are of no benefit of anyone. Immediate action should be taken in order to stop this ridiculous situation. Measures should be taken to ensure adding of the smell chemical and redistribution of the gas cylinder shops should be arranged. Awareness campaigns should be initiated through all media tools. And Station filling owners should be compelled to fully fill the cylinders, otherwise the threat would always remain and next victim could simply be anyone, so let's join forces and do something before it is too late!