A desire to know

August 1, 2008 By    

Nobody can say for certain that residents face a greater safety risk by cooking on a backyard grill that has a plastic sleeve across the belly of its propane cylinder.

Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

But neither can anyone say for certain that they don’t.

So why don’t we find the answers?

Photos of 20-pound cylinders with a precise band of rust where the sleeves are applied refute the absurd claim that this is not a formidable industry issue. It’s a problem laden with dire consequences given the liabilities of leaking cylinders adjacent to working grills, patio heaters and turkey fryers in millions of back yards nationwide.

With at least 50 million cylinders in circulation, it is a tragedy waiting to happen somewhere, somehow. Yet industry leaders continue to drag their feet, resisting attempts to delve into the cause, impact or solutions to a problem they have been discussing – and dismissing – since at least 1997.

I understand that the major marketers who use the plastic sleeves and own the lion’s share of the fast-growing exchange market don’t want the boat rocked. They are heavily invested in refurbishing equipment, facilities and point-of-sale brand marketing tools that drive sales up and costs down. That’s why it’s easy for them to posture that everything is fine as long as all refillers follow tank inspection requirements – as they claim to do.

But all is not fine, according to dozens of refillers who took the time to call and write this magazine to challenge a published claim that “plastic sleeves on cylinders do not cause cylinders to flash rust.”

Nor does it seem fair to lay the solution to a problem created by the cylinder exchange giants in the lap of independent refillers who don’t use sleeves.

Not only is rust occurring, but it is going undetected and untreated by marketers who do not remove the sleeves to properly inspect the entire tank. They know all too well that it is faster, easier, cheaper and maybe even smarter for them to leave a competitor’s colorful logo on the vessel. They believe they can dodge liability in the event of an accident and subsequent lawsuit if they can’t be traced back as the filler.

Nobody is saying the industry should ban plastic sleeves or halt exchange operations. But shouldn’t we at least take the time to find out what we are up against?

Isn’t it incumbent on the industry to determine if rust is caused by the sleeve material, type of paint or improper tank preparation? Don’t we want to know if this is a problem with tens, thousands or tens of thousands of cylinders? Or if it is more prominent in certain regions? Shouldn’t we be aware of the impact of rust blasting on cylinders that get exchanged as many as 60 times over their five-year recertification period?

Currently, nobody has those answers. But clearly there are enough symptoms to call the question.

Major exchange companies and industry leaders are quick to note that there have been no instances of cylinder rupture due to this corrosion issue in the two decades since the national distribution networks were launched. True, but that doesn’t mean that their corporate backsides won’t be exposed if somebody’s Labor Day picnic ends in a tragedy on the nightly news.

Plaintiff’s attorneys hang their hats on a phrase in the law that says the defendant “knew or should have known” of dangers associated with their product. We as an industry can no longer say we didn’t know about cylinder sleeve rust.

Let’s not wait for that one tragic incident to blacken the industry’s eye before we dare to seek solutions. We know the concerns. We have plenty of questions.

Do we have the gumption and leadership it takes to find answers in the name of public safety?

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