COLOMBO - The Sri Lankan government on Friday suspended distribution of all gas cylinders following an alarming rise in unexplained cooking gas explosions and fires that have injured many people across the island nation in recent weeks.
Consumer protection minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna told media the decision was taken after about 60 explosions were recorded on Thursday. There were no plans to order a total cylinder recall at this time, he added.
On Wednesday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a committee to investigate the incidents and provide a report within two weeks following police and media reports of 14 explosions in a single day.
"Gas distribution has been suspended so companies can add adequate amounts of ethyl mercaptan to the gas cylinders. If there is a leak the smell from this chemical will help household members detect it quickly. The gas companies have assured us this can be done in 2-3 days. After that distribution will recommence," Alagiyawanna said.
Ethyl Mercaptan is commonly used as an additive to odorless gases like butane, propane, and petroleum to warn users in case of leaks.
State-run Litro gas, which provides more than 80% of Sri Lanka's liquefied petroleum gas cylinders for both domestic and commercial use, as well as Laugfs Gas have been notified of the suspension order.
Both companies had earlier rejected claims the explosions are due to a change in the propane and butane mix of cylinders.
However, Alagiyawanna warned that if investigations reveal the gas companies made changes sans regulatory approvals legal action would be taken against them by the government.
"The two gas companies have to take responsibility for this situation. If any decision was taken to increase profits that may have ended up harming the public then we will take steps to ensure accountability."
The government will also conduct sample testing on all future gas shipments to the country and return any stocks that do not meet local standards.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by Euan Rocha and Angus MacSwan) ((email@example.com; +91 22 6180 7257; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))