“Boom”, “shake”, “little booms”, and “someone yelling fire” are common words used by witnesses to describe a propane tank explosion.
What is propane?
Propane is a flammable gas found in natural gas and used as bottled fuel. Propane is both colorless and odorless. Propane is intentionally odorized to smell like rotten eggs. The smell allows leaks to be detected. Propane is often stored in pressurized containers. That is why it is an explosion hazard. Propane is heavier than air which causes it accumulate in low-lying areas like basements, trenches, and along the floor. Most residential propane gas is stored in metal cylinders and are often used as fuel to power BBQ grills. Other home uses for propane gas include fuel for furnaces to heat the home or patio, portable furnaces or fireplaces, clothes dryer, or the hot water heater. Many businesses and industries also rely on propane. If the propane tank ruptures, heats up, becomes impacted, or is otherwise disturbed a violent explosion may occur.
How do Propane Gas Explosions Occur?
Odor fade and venting are the most common causes of propane explosions and fires.
Propane Gas Odorization and Odor Fade
Propane gas is odorless and colorless. This can make it very difficult to detect a propane leak. A chemical compound named ethyl mercaptan is added to propane in order to make it smell like rotten eggs. Federal law requires this chemical to be added in order to allow consumers to detect a leak.
Countless people have been injured transporting propane tanks and using propane tanks because leaks were not detected. Odor fade is a major problem for grill manufacturers. The rotten egg smell created by ethyl mercaptan can fade over time. Some studies show the smell begins to fade a week after the tank is filled and other studies have shown the odor can be completely undetectable with three weeks of being filled.
Safety Valves and Gas Tank Venting
When the pressure in the gas tank increases a process called venting can occur. An explosion can occur if the pressure inside the propane tank is increase to a certain point. Propane expands when it is exposed to heat. Tanks are equipped with a safety valve that releases propane from the tank when the air pressure increases to dangerous levels. The air pressure and explosion risk is reduced when safety valve releases propane. A faulty safety valve could prevent the release of propane gas which could allow the internal pressure to increase to an unstable level resulting in an explosion. Many things can cause a propane tank’s internal pressure to rise to dangerous levels. Excessive heat is the most common cause as temperature increase can cause an increase in the propane tank’s internal air pressure. A propane tanks internal pressure can rise due to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Propane tanks could also be stored in a shed, garage or enclosed area that is easily prone to spikes in temperature. Propane tanks can also be overfilled. Massachusetts law requires propane tanks to be equipped with overfill prevention devices.
If the propane grill is located in a closed area then the venting process could also create an explosion hazard. A propane tank enclosed in a cabinet or stored in a garage could over heat causing the tanks internal pressure to increase triggering the safety value to initiate the venting process. A confined space like a cabinet or garage does not have great ventilation. As a result, the propane that is released can buildup in these confined spaces over time. If a confined space with little ventilation is filled with enough propane it could be easy to ignite. Something as simple as turning on the garage light or activating the automatic garage door opener could ignite the propane.
Immediately following a propane gas explosion, an investigation should be launched to determine the cause of the explosion. A fire inside or outside the house raises the temperature enough for example, to trigger a propane gas explosion of a tank sitting under a BBQ grill. The balance of a typical propane gas tank is kept by temperature, pressure, agitation levels, and the volume of gas in the tank. Disturbing any of these components may trigger a propane gas explosion.
Other Propane Tank Safety Issues
- Rusted Propane Tank Explosion
- Propane BLEVE Explosion
- Propane Leak Explosion Open Bleeder Valve & Relief Valve
- Portable Propane Cylinder Explosion
- Stationary Propane Tanks
- Propane Odor Fade Explosion
Additional Causes of Propane Tank Explosions
- Improper or negligent maintenance or repairs of a propane tank (not replacing an old regulator, creating a leak)
- Improper or negligent site inspection of the propane tank by the company that provides the propane;
- Improperly odorized propane. A chemical compound named ethyl mercaptan is added to propane in order to make it smell like rotten eggs. Federal law requires this chemical to be added in order to allow consumers to detect a leak.
- Improper or negligent installation of a gas stove, dryer, furnace, fireplace, hot water heater or other home appliance;
- Improperly or negligently refilling a propane home appliance by a service technician. Propane appliance maintenance companies are supposed to relight the appliance before leaving the job.
- Propane storage tank leaks;
- Propane gas line leaks;
- Barbecue Grill explosions.
Catastrophic Injuries, Including Death
If a propane tank of stored compressed gas explodes while being used or stored for any purpose, catastrophic injuries, including death are likely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that approximately 600 propane gas tank explosions occur annually. Among the injures reported are as follows:
- Severe Burns – first, second, and third degree burns are the most common injury. Healing time can last years and require surgeries to repair damaged skin.
- Loss of Limb – fingers, hands, or other limbs may be lost when the propane gas explosion occurs in close proximity to an individual or group of individual.
- Shrapnel Injuries – the propane tank explosion causes a blast that can move people and objects involuntarily. Any debris from the tank itself and surrounding objects in the air, like metal or other projectiles can cause cuts and become lodged all over the body, causing severe injuries.
About Propane Tank Safety
The State of Massachusetts requires propane tanks to be equipped with overfill prevention devices. This device prevents people from refilling the tanks with an unsafe level of propane gas. Additionally, improvements were made to the hoses and connectors that carry the propane from the tank to the appliance or BBQ. Particularly with BBQs made after 1995, a shut-off mechanism is triggered if the grill overheats or malfunctions.
Injured by a Propane Tank Explosion in Massachusetts?
Experienced Boston Area Personal Injury Attorneys – Initial Consultations Are Always Free – No Fee Unless We Recover For You
If you or a loved one has been injured in a propane gas explosion, then call the propane gas explosion attorneys at The Law Offices of Gerald J. Noonan today. We have a proven track record with over 35 years of legal experience. Our propane gas explosion lawyer have successfully represented victims of explosion accidents for decades and we are ready to take on your case today.
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