Unchecked compressed gas cylinders remain deadly in Vietnam

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A compressed gas cylinder at a motorbike repair stall on a street in Hanoi

Compressed gas cylinders of poor quality, commonly used in Vietnam, still represent a fatal threat, as authorities have failed to tighten their control.

On June 21 an explosion took place at a boarding house in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City, leaving one dead and four others seriously injured.

The city's authorities concluded that it was caused by a gas cylinder used to fill balloons. Three gas cylinders were found at the house, which was home to some ten people who sell balloons and toys in the street.

Earlier this month a homemade gas cylinder exploded at a street motorbike repair stall, also in HCMC, instantly killing a 13-year-old boy who was standing nearby.

Last year HCMC reported at least two accidents linked to compressed gas cylinders used to fill balloons and flat tires.

In one case, it was identified that the cylinder was too old with welded joints that could not withstand the air pressure.

Despite such incidents being reported by local media since last year, the presence of poor quality compressed gas cylinders is still pervasive throughout Vietnam.

In Hanoi, for instance, Thanh Nien reporters found that with gas cylinders are rampant within a dense population of motorbike repair shops and street stalls along streets like Lang, Pham Van Dong, Giai Phong and Nguyen Trai.

At most of the street stalls, the cylinders are placed outdoors, while many are pushed around the streets as part of mobile stalls.

Compressed gas cylinders used for welding are also at common at metalworking shops along De La Thanh Street. Each shop has two to three cylinders in place, and one has up to ten.

Many of them are rusty with peeling paint, and do not have any label indicating where they were produced.

Most of shop owners refused to answer questions posed to them by Thanh Nien concerning the dangers of old gas cylinders.

Dung, a 48-year-old man who runs a bike repair stall on Lang Street, said nothing has happened since he started the business with an old gas cylinder nearly ten years ago.

"Everyone does the same [using old gas cylinders] everywhere. As long as you operate them properly, explosions will not happen," he said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Thanh Nien, Bach Quoc Viet, chief of the safety division under the Hanoi labor department said it was "terribly dangerous" that some motorbike repair shops bought cheap used gas cylinders before modifying them.

Risks of fires and explosions are higher when users do not fully understand their function or how to operate them, he said.

However, the official said authorities have yet to tackle the problem of old gas cylinders used at small shops. So far they have inspected labor safety and explosion prevention practices at car garages only, he said.

The department has made plans to promote safety measures and inspect the use of gas cylinders at shops in Hanoi this year, Viet said.

"Although Hanoi has yet to record any explosion of gas cylinders, we do not ignore the risks."

Last year local media also raised concerns and issued warnings regarding the safety of poor quality gas cylinders commonly used in HCMC.

An unnamed official with the city's quality check agency then told a newspaper that his agency was only authorized to check flow meters attached to compressed gas cylinders.

Gas cylinders that were used at shops in the city were supposed to be checked by the HCMC labor department, he said.

However, a representative with the city's labor safety check agency under the labor department said that they did not have enough personnel to inspect every shop currently using gas cylinders.

He also said shops could have their gas cylinders' safety checked by the quality check agency for a fee. 

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