Many homes Costa Rica use gas in their kitchens, and with no gas line coming from a public utility piped in from the street, the only source is a propane gas tank or cylinder. And chances are if you use gas stove in Costa Rica that the regulator is obsolete and considered unsafe in the rest of the world.
The type of regulator in use in Costa Rica has long been considered unsafe in the rest of the world. The cheap pin type regulator is actually referred to as the “Central American type”.
If the condition of the cylinder and regulator is good the chances of any serious problem is small.
However, many in Costa Rica, to save a few colones, will continue to use rusted out and dented cylinders, even with faulty regulators and leaks, a dangerous combination when considering that the majority of the cylinders are next to the gas stove and usually in a confined space, like in the kitchen or worse yet a closet, with poor or little to no ventilation.
Very few homes have the space to place the gas cylinder outside, in the patio for instance. And even then, there is the problem of using the appropriate gas line and not just a rubber garden home.
All this and carelessness can lead to disaster, as was the case on Monday when a cylinder in a soda in Alajuela blew up, injuring six and killing one of three sisters who owned and ran the small restaurant.
It is not uncommon to see propane gas cylinders in poor condition. Worse is that these cylinders are sold and distributed in poor condition. This is evidenced by visiting your nearby “pulperia” (grocery store) where cylinders are available for purchase/exchange.
Typically, once you purchase a cylinder you only need to exchange an empty for a full one. Although you own (paid the purchase price) for a cylinder, you only get to exchange it for another unless you are willing to go the source – the gas plant – to have it refilled.
[one_half last=”no”][colored_box color=”blue”]LP Gas Prices in Costa Rica:
8.598 lt. (small tank): ¢3.146
21.495 lt (regular tank): ¢7.864
85.981 lt (large tank): ¢31.457
BBQ tank: ¢6.291[/colored_box][/one_half]Thus, in effect your cylinder is only as good as the last user and since there is no responsibility to take care of it or report it damaged, well…
Z-Gas or Zeta Gas is one of the major distributor in Costa Rica after taking over Tropigas last year.
Although Z-Gas assures that they discard damaged cylinder, it is in contrast to the reality of the cylinders at the corner store. Z-Gas blames the problem on other companies, saying they only fill their cylinders and cannot control the quality of the others.
Felipe Mejija Iturbe, an official for Z-Gas, blames “piracy”. In a recent press statement, he said “the problem is in pirate companies who fill the cylinders without authorization or provide maintenance to same”.
To get an idea of the magnitude of the danger, Z-Gas has handles some 250.000 cylinders a month through some 5.000 distribution points across the country.
There is no clear number of the total number of cylinders out there and their condition.
According to Héctor Chaves, the director of the Bomberos de Costa Rica, the fire department attends to some 3.000 emergencies a year related to gas cylinders. Of those, Chaves explains, 80% are related to leaking regulators, the rest to the poor condition of the cylinder due to rust, dents and abuse.
“The problem is that nobody takes responsibility for the problem, everyone passes the buck and no one takes care of the maintenance of the cylinder”, says Chaves.
According to Chaves, a potential tragedy is in every household.
How to protect yourself from a tragedy
Compared to other flammable gases, propane is more difficult to ignite. In order to burn, air must contain between 2.2% and 9.6% propane vapors. Thus, although propane leaks can be hazardous, they are not nearly as dangerous as other types of gas leaks. Also, a leaky underground propane tank does not cause as much pollution as a heating oil leak.
Inspect closely the condition of the cylinder before taking it from the store. In the majority of cases, the choice of cylinder is not very good, meaning trading a good one for one not so good. One way to avoid this is to buy a new cylinder and then locate a refill location and reusing “your” cylinder.
Keep the cylinder in an open and well ventilated area. Just by keeping it in the patio, where there is no ventilation for any possible leaking gas to escape into the air – means nothing. Gas can easily build up and explode.
Ensure that the regulator is not leaking, properly fitted at all times.
Currently there are no laws or regulations in place controlling the use and maintenance of gas cylinders. Thus the responsibility of providing safe cylinders and maintaining them safe is up to the individual supplier. And since the price of the gas is regulated – set by the government – maintaining and replacing gas cylinders cuts into profits.
To solve the problem in Costa Rica gas companies would have to replace the cylinders in use in order to switch to the much safer screw type regulators that are in use worldwide. Legislation to require the change has been languishing for years and the gas companies are unwilling to make the change until someone can answer the question of who will pay.
Major Tragedies Due to Leaking Gas Cylinders
August 24, 2008 – La Amistad, Jacó – a leak led to an explosion killing three.
December 27, 2011 – Paraiso de Cartago, one man dies from the explosion; another suffers burns to 95% of his body
January 21, 2103 – Six people injured, one woman dies in an explosion