Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By J. Craig Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org
The explosion last week that killed a Yarmouth man, leveled his condominium unit and damaged surrounding homes has prompted some Mainers to request inspections of their propane systems, said the safety director for a Maine fuel company.
Mike Aboud, a service technician for Dead River Company, tests a propane system for leaks at a home in Scarborough on Friday, June 28, 2013.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
Mike Aboud, a service technician for Dead River Company, tests the prooane system for leaks and poor performance of a fireplace insert at a home in Scarborough on Friday, June 28, 2013.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
Mark Anderson of Dead River Co. said it's not unusual to see a moderate increase in leak-testing requests after an explosion.
"You're going to have some folks who have some concerns," he said.
Despite the danger that a propane leak can pose, most Maine residents don't follow established guidelines for having their systems inspected, said Joe Rose, president of the New Hampshire-based Propane Gas Association of New England.
Less than 5 percent of residential propane users in New England have their piping, connections and fittings tested for leaks every two years as recommended, Rose said.
Technicians do leak tests whenever they install new equipment, turn on new service or refill an empty tank, but most propane users go years without a follow-up inspection, Rose said. Over time, vibration, age and regular wear and tear can loosen fittings and cause leaks.
"If their system is more than two years old, they should consider calling and getting their system inspected," he said.
There are no national statistics on the frequency of fatal propane explosions in homes, Rose said, but they are considered extremely rare.
There have been three such explosions in New England in the past 12 months, including two in Maine.
State investigators have said the explosion on Gables Drive in Yarmouth that killed 66-year-old Peter Corey on June 25 was caused by a propane leak, but they have not yet released further details.
In general, causes can include faulty equipment, users' error, wear and tear, improper installation and even sabotage or arson. Rose said it can be difficult to get a definitive explanation.
"Because these things often end in litigation, you often don't get the answers until years later," he said.
A propane explosion in Bath on Feb. 12 destroyed a duplex and killed one of its residents, 64-year-old Dale Ann Fussell.
The cause was determined to be a leak in the pipe that fed propane from an outside tank into the homes of Fussell and her next-door neighbor.
An explosion Aug. 29 at a home in New Milford, Conn., killed one man and injured two others. The homeowner and a friend were trying to fix a propane leak in the basement.
The homeowner, John Wilkinson, 46, and his 9-year-old son, Nicholas, were seriously injured. Wilkinson's friend Anthony Fratino III, 47, was killed.
Despite the potential danger of propane, some users defer regular inspections because testing can cost as much as $100. Others simply don't know it's something they should do, Rose said.
"We have some education to do as an industry," he said.
Rose said propane users should contact their utility company if they want to schedule a routine inspection. If they smell a strong odor of propane, which has a distinctive rotten-egg smell, they should leave the area immediately and call their utility or dial 911.
Any flame or spark can ignite propane, which is heavier than air so can accumulate on floors or in crawl spaces and basements.
Experts said anyone who suspects a propane leak should not turn on lights, smoke, strike matches, light candles, use the telephone, ring the doorbell, or use, plug in or unplug any electrical appliances. They should go outside or use a neighbor's house to call for emergency help.
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