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LPG cylinders are commonly used in Indian households for cooking and water heating. The gas used in the cylinder (Propane or Butane) is highly inflammable and a potential hazard when it leaks from faulty equipment. Gas regulators, hoses, seals and other components of LPG appliances can malfunction or wear out over time and cause dangerous gas leaks. Read on to know about gas leaks, how to avoid them and what to do when your equipment leaks.
What Can Cause a Gas Leakage at Home?
The major cause of a gas leak in houses is faulty equipment. Gas appliances have various components to regulate and direct the flow of gas to burners. Manufacturing defects, damage caused due to wear and tear or the component being used beyond its rated lifespan can lead to mechanical failures and leaks. The hose (the tube which conveys gas from cylinder to burner) is often the first to fail as it experiences the most wear and tear at its joints. Blockages in the burner, failed gaskets and faulty regulators can also lead to a gas leak. A leak can also occur during cooking or heating when unsupervised items such as milk or water boil over and spill on the burner causing a flame out and letting the gas escape.
Why Is a Gas Leakage Dangerous?
There are two main reasons why gas leaks are so dangerous:
LPG is highly flammable when mixed with air, even in a small percentage. When gas leaks inside a confined space such as a house, it’s the perfect recipe for an explosion if you have a source of ignition. When it goes off, the explosion produces tremendous heat that can burn the skin and set things on fire. Other damage comes from the ‘shock wave’ which is high-pressure hot air moving through the house, expanding outward. This pressure wave can damage the eardrums and lungs and knock people off their feet. It can propel objects into the air and blow out windows, causing secondary damage. The result is burns, broken bones and shrapnel injury with loss of life in some cases. Explosions can also lead to the collapse of walls leading to further property damage and injury.
When inhaled in high quantities, the gas can displace oxygen leading to suffocation and death by hypoxia. Some of the symptoms of gas inhalation are dizziness, euphoria, loss of coordination and hallucinations. Prolonged inhalation in the form of small leaks daily can lead to nervous system damage, seizures, depression, impaired memory, mood swings, etc. It can also damage the heart, lungs and kidneys. A secondary consequence of improper combustion of gas and poor ventilation is the formation of the highly poisonous carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning is highly dangerous and fatal in many cases as it is not obvious when first inhaled. When people inhale the gas, it leads to dizziness, nausea, abdomen and chest pain, headaches, and loss of consciousness. Loss of consciousness eventually leads to suffocation and death.
How to Check a Gas Cylinder for Leakage?
Here are four ways to check if your gas cylinder is leaking:
- The telltale sign of an LPG cylinder leaking is the sulphurous odour of ethyl mercaptan. It is a smelly compound mixed with LPG as the gas in the cylinder are odourless. Everybody who has used a gas stove would be familiar with the odour.
- A sudden release of large amounts of gas creates a smoggy white cloud in the space around the leak. Avoid walking into this cloud as it can be hazardous.
- A small rupture in the hose can usually be heard in the form of a faint hissing noise or can be felt with your hand when you run your fingers over the hose. To confirm, close the regulator valve on the cylinder and see if it stops the leak.
- If you have a gas line and not a cylinder, there’s an easy trick to detect LPG gas leakage. Switch off all the appliances that run on gas. Go to the gas meter and check if it’s still running; if it is, then one of your appliances is leaking gas.
What Should You Do In Case Of a Gas Leakage?
Although you may take every precaution in the book to avoid a gas leak, you may find yourself facing a gas leak from the cylinder in your kitchen. Here are the dos and don’ts for such a situation:
- Stay calm and don’t panic. Clear thought is necessary in emergencies like these so you can take all the right actions. Your cool will also stop others in the house from panicking and doing something wrong.
- The first step is to evacuate everybody in the house including your pets so you can take preliminary action.
- Extinguish all sources of fire in the house including incense sticks and diyas.
- Shut off the regulator valve. If you hear gas leaking out after the valve has been shut, it’s a faulty regulator. Remove the regulator from the gas cylinder. The inbuilt cylinder valves close themselves as soon as the regulator is removed and stop the leak. This is the best way to stop a gas cylinder leakage.
- Open the windows and doors to allow the gas to dissipate, call the emergency number and report the situation.
- If you’re still in doubt, step out of the house.
- In case you see flames coming out of the equipment, use a large cloth like a blanket to smother the flame and cut the oxygen supply. You can then proceed to remove the regulator out of the cylinder.
- Do not turn on any electrical equipment or fans to speed up gas dissipation. Switches often give off internal electrical sparks that could set off an explosion.
- Do not turn off any equipment that is running either. That carries the risk of a spark as well.
- If it’s dark, don’t light a match or a candle. Use your phone’s flashlight.
How to Prevent a Gas Leakage?
These are some tips on how to maintain your equipment and prevent a gas leak:
- Awareness is the first step to safety. You and your family must be aware of the signs of a gas leak and the factors that contribute to it. Especially, children should be aware of how to identify a gas leak and take immediate measure to safeguard themselves.
- Ensure there’s adequate ventilation in the kitchen and bathroom where you use gas burners. The equipment must be kept at a safe distance from the rest, and adequate ventilation must be provided for fresh air to flow.
- Have your equipment inspected regularly by certified inspectors. Everything from regulators and hoses to burners must be inspected for wear and tear or defects. Similarly, buy equipment that is certified to ensure it’s not faulty.
- Replace the equipment after its certified lifespan is over. Do not use it over its specified lifespan.
- Have safety equipment such as carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers installed in the house. Carbon monoxide detectors look similar to smoke detectors and go off when the concentration reaches set levels.
A gas leak is dangerous and must be taken seriously. Recognising the signs on time is important so that the right course of action can be taken to avoid a tragedy. With proper safety precautions and regular equipment checks, it’s possible to avoid a gas leak.