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SITTING ON A POWDER keg . . . worries over ‘fake’ LPG gas

Prince Mushawevato

ACCIDENTS related to highly flammable Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is used in heating appliances, cookers, vehicles and refrigerants, are on the rise.

Demand for the commodity has been growing exponentially owing to intermittent power supplies and relatively expensive tariffs.

Sensing an opportunity from the current gas consumption patterns, greedy individuals are reportedly retailing cheap, but substandard gas to line their pockets.

LPG is ordinarily made from hydrocarbon gases, most commonly propane, butane and propylene.

Butane and propylene make up less than 5 percent of mixture.

According to industry standards, if the mixture doesn’t meet the expected specifications, it is supposed to be disposed.

However, some of the condemned product is finding its way into people’s homes.

Standard Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) director-general Dr Eve Gadzikwa confirmed receiving reports of sub-standard gas on the market.

She, however, could not give finer details and referred questions to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera).

On his part, Zera chief executive officer Mr Edington Mazambani encouraged consumers to always be on the lookout when dealing with LPG dealers and report any suspicious operations.

“Members of the public should not buy LPG from people who do not possess valid LPG licences. If any consumer is aware of a licensed or unlicensed dealer selling the so-called ‘fake gas’, please give details to Zera for investigations,” he added.

Last year, the industry regulator announced plans to weed out unlicensed LPG dealers to curb accidents related to illegal trade in the highly flammable substance.

The operation led to the arrest of several dealers that were illegally involved in the LPG business, particularly those trading in substandard cylinders.

Rogue dealers were modifying fire extinguishers and refurbishing damaged or disused old LPG cylinders for resale.

The sub-standard cylinders, which are often branded and marketed using established brand names, are relatively cheaper than genuine products.

Added Mazambani: “Zera conducts regular, countrywide quality inspections at all licensed LPG retailers and wholesalers to check their product’s compliance with quality standards. None of the licences had LPG that was below the expected quality specifications in 2021, even in 2022.

“Substandard LPG may not burn well, producing less heat and excessive soot. It may also not last long.”

Unlucky

Unfortunately, some people have not been lucky to live to tell the tale.

On Wednesday night, five family members — a couple and their three children — died in Eyestone, part of the Retreat area in southern Harare, when a gas tank exploded.

The cause of the explosion and resultant fire that trapped the family in their two-roomed house is yet to be
ascertained.

However, the father, Kudzai Gozhora (32), is alleged to have been in the business of selling gas to people in and around the area.

This is not an isolated incident.

In October last year, tragedy also struck as eight people died after gas exploded at SAS Mine in Mazowe.

And two months before the Mazowe disaster, a 16-year-old died on the spot while three others were seriously injured after gas from a two-plate stove exploded in Southlea Park, Harare.

In 2020, several people were injured in Epworth when a gas cylinder that was being used by artisans for soldering exploded at Domboramwari Shopping Centre.

A few days before, a woman in the same area was injured following a gas tank explosion.

Also, a Chinhoyi-based gas dealer and two other people escaped death by a whisker when tanks filled with LPG caught fire and exploded in the high-density suburb of Chikonohono.

Several other incidences have occurred and gone unreported as they had no fatalities.

Concern

Naturally, authorities are worried.

Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said they will continue to work with the regulator to flush out unlicensed operators.

“Zera is the energy regulator and as police, we work hand-in-glove with them whenever there is need for us to enforce the law.

If Zera makes a report, we will definitely move in and arrest the culprits,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.

Harare City Council claims to be complementing efforts to weed out rogue dealers.

“We are playing our part in safeguarding citizens by enforcing compliance with issues like registering operations by periodically checking for trading licences,” said the city’s head of communications and stakeholder management Michael Chideme.

Some unlicensed retailers who spoke to The Sunday Mail Society indicated they couldn’t afford formalising their operations because of the inherent costs involved.

“I started this LPG business last year with a single cylinder. I have since added four more.

‘‘I often get my supply from Zambia and South Africa since they have a better wholesale price compared to local suppliers,” said Mabvuku-based Takunda (surname withheld), who operates from his backyard.

“I believe my product is genuine. However, there are a few instances when some clients have come complaining of the gas not lasting or burning well.”

His colleague, who operates in the same area, confirmed that they did not conduct any quality tests for LPG.

“We are supposed to get the product tested, it is not possible since our operations are not registered.”

Several unlicensed LPG dealers have mushroomed in many high- and medium-density suburbs.

But, those willing to trade the commodity are supposed to get local authority permits to run the business.

They also need clearance to handle hazardous substances, must construct suitable premises with approved equipment to handle the product and are equally required to obtain a Zera licence.

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