Cabinet heater concerns

June 1, 2007 By    

The timing could not have been worse for news to circulate about the rupture of five propane-filled composite cylinders at a Heritage Propane facility in Miami April 4, 10 and 13 – just eight weeks before the propane industry had hoped to tap into the virgin cabinet heater market.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

The 33-pound forklift cylinders, manufactured by The Lite Cylinder Company in Franklin, Tenn., ruptured during storage on an outdoor platform. Officials from DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are investigating the cause of the failures and any problems in the manufacturing process of the two-piece units, which are adhesively joined to form the completed cylinder.

Fortunately, there were no injuries or property damage from the incidents. Unfortunately, all cylinders of the same design have been ordered removed from service as a safety precaution.

The recall was more than just bad P.R. for the fledgling cylinder manufacturer. It was a virtual nail in the coffin for the industry’s three-year effort to amend the NFPA 58 fire code to allow composite cylinder use with cabinet heaters.

A basic tenet of the National Propane Gas Association’s proposal was that the new resin technology makes the cylinders safer because propane diffuses through the melted outer jacket walls during a fire. In theory, firefighters are spared the danger of exploding steel cylinders or a concentrated stream of burning gas from a relief valve.

In truth, the measure likely would have failed without the Lite Cylinder incidents. Propane industry officials were struggling to sway their own marketers, let alone a conservative fire service community opposed to the changes. Many marketers are understandably leery about amending their decades-old stance against customers bringing propane cylinders indoors.

They also share concerns expressed by NFPA and Underwriters Laboratories that customers will try to trade composite cylinders for steel ones once the need for winter heat arrives.

With the stars lining up against them heading into the June 6 NFPA meeting, NPGA’s Executive Committee chose to withdraw support for the proposals just one day before the Lite Cylinder recall was issued.

The prospect of adding a new, 600-million-gallon per year market is not dead, of course. Look for NPGA and the Propane Education & Research Council to ramp up consumer education efforts to address safety concerns in time for the next round of fire code updates in 2009.

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