Safety fears grow as 'illegal' gas cylinders are uncovered

A number of illegal gas cylinders have been found on the market, according to the consumer watchdog, which, however, would not say what action it has taken.

Meanwhile, the police have confirmed they are carrying out an investigation into illegal practices concerning gas cylinders but refused to divulge any details.

“A number of cylinders were found on the market which do not comply with the legal requirements. Action has been taken with the operators to ensure that all cylinders on the market conform to legal requirements,” the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Association said yesterday.

No details were given about the number of cylinders or the type of action carried out. Nor did the MCCAA say to which operator the non-compliant cylinders belonged.

“Investigations are still underway on cylinders from both economic operators,” the MCCAA said, when asked for more information.

The Times yesterday reported that the MCCAA was carrying out an investigation following allegations made by Liquigas that Easygas was misappropriating old Enemalta cylinders, exporting them to Italy for modification and selling them in Malta without the necessary requirements. Easygas admitted sending the cylinders to Italy but claimed this was only being done for storage purposes.

The consumer watchdog says customers should ensure that the gas cylinders they buy have a serial number “stamped or indelibly marked” on them, normally on the shroud around the valve or the cylinder's body. “Serial numbers are important because they lead to the history of the cylinder including when the cylinder was manufactured, tested and due for retesting.”

“A cylinder without a serial number is not traceable to any certificate and, therefore, its integrity and soundness cannot be confirmed,” the MCCAA said.

All cylinders are also required to have the contact details of the company distributing them and a telephone number which customers can call if the need arises, according to the MCCAA.

The authority added that it began investigating the matter mid-last month, “immediately” after it received reports about the cylinders.

Meanwhile, the Malta Resources Authority, which said it had initiated the investigation and was coordinating efforts with the MCCAA about the matter, said it has no reason to believe that cylinders were being filled at non-licensed areas.

This raises questions about the way gas cylinders are processed and screened before being filled and placed on the market.

The Consumers Association pointed out that, due to their hazardous nature, gas cylinders had specific regulations ensuring safe storage and distribution.

“We have to bear in mind that gas cylinders end up in homes of thousands of consumers which explains why safety is of utmost importance,” president Benny Borg Bonello said. “Our association expects the regulators to continue monitoring the cylinders on the market, inform consumers where to report suspected faulty cylinders and keep consumers informed of what action they are taking to ensure that all gas cylinders placed on the market are safe for use by consumers.” Liquigas pointed out that cylinders which do not carry a serial number constitute a hazard to safety at homes and during transportation.

“Without a serial number, there can be no effective and reliable traceability of each and every cylinder.

“This is a basic safety consideration as this is the only way by which both consumers and authorities can ascertain that the cylinder was manufactured and maintained up to the required standards. The directives stipulate that a cylinder without a serial number cannot be filled or sold – it is only good as scrap steel.

“All Liquigas cylinders have serial numbers and therefore are covered by insurance,” a spokesman for the company said, urging customers to always ensure their cylinders carry a serial number.

Easygas has not yet replied to questions sent by The Times yesterday afternoon.

published in the Times of Malta of the 3rd November 2011