Flaming bikes: Petrolimex comes under fire for gasoline quality

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Scientists criticized the state-owned Vietnam National Petroleum Group (Petrolimex) for failing to ensure gasoline quality at a conference held Wednesday to discuss the rash of mysterious vehicle fires around the country.

"Everybody is aware of the dangerous shortcomings in the management of gasoline quality," Hoang Manh Hung of the Center for Consultancy and Civil Assessment (CCCA) told the conference held by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations.

"It has worsened the concerns of residents who already suffer from low quality food and medicine."

Thanh Nien in January broke the story of dishonest tanker drivers siphoning off gas and replacing it with an unidentified liquid on the way from Petrolimex depots to gas stations.

The newspaper had begun an investigation after more than 100 motorbikes and dozens of cars were destroyed or damaged by fires due to unknown causes since early 2011. Most of them went up in fire on the street, some when merely parked, while others burst into flames after a collision.

Hung said the liquid that Thanh Nien saw may have been MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), an additive used to raise the octane number in gasoline.

"This oxygenate alters the volatility of gasoline, which could lead to unexpected combustion.

"There must be some experts colluding with wholesalers and retailers in selling low quality gas."

Petrolimex deputy general director Nguyen Quang Kien rejected accusations that low-quality gas was the reason for vehicle fires. He spent significant time on spelling out the company's procedures in the process from importing to retailing.

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However, Nguyen Manh Hung, general secretary of the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association, said his agency receives many complaints from consumers about the low quality of gas.

"Petrolimex should prove that it has a good management system instead of merely insisting [it does]. The consumers only know how safe the gas is based on what actually happens, and what happens is bike fires," he said.

Tran Quoc Tuan, director of the Product Quality Management Department, said his agency would announce on April 26 whether low-quality gas was the reason for vehicle fires.

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