Danger of Gas Cylinders Goes Unheeded; Complaints by Citizens Cannot Be Addressed by Official Statements

AKEED, Anwar Ziadat

The issue of defective valves of gas cylinders has topped the list of complaints of citizens when answering an interactive question by the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED). Meanwhile, the Monitor, by tracking news published in the daily newspapers, confirmed that incidents involving gas cylinders have caused the death of eight people over the past two months.

AKEED handled this issue based on the fact that gas cylinders are considered very dangerous items. It is totally inconceivable to justify any defect in them, no matter how small, because it simply means disregard for the life of citizens.

Statistics by the Civil Defense Directorate (CDD), obtained by AKEED, reveal that the CDD had dealt with 109 incidents related to gas cylinders over the past two months. CDD figures do not represent all incidents related to this aspect. Its statistics are confined to incidents it deals with through operations of rescue, aid, and evacuation. Cases that are rescued in private vehicles are not recorded. Medical sources announce deaths at hospitals, while other security agencies announce deaths that involve criminal suspicions.

The number of deaths that AKEED has reached depended on monitoring news in the daily newspapers and directly verifying their accuracy through direct contact in a number of cases.

The answers of citizens came through interacting with a question raised by AKEED on its Facebook page to monitor their complaints, which are absent from media reports that handled the case. These reports depended on publishing conflicting statements by the Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization (JSMO), the Consumer Protection Society (CPS), and the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company (JPRC).

AKEED received 942 complaints, of which 51% involved technical problems of the valves of gas cylinders, followed by problems related to the weight of gas cylinders by 22%. Some 7% of the participants noted that there were impurities and water inside gas cylinders, but none of them supported the complaint with a video. Some of them said that the incident occurred some time ago, while others indicated that they did not take pictures of these cases. Around four persons said that they had found water whose amounts ranged between three and five liters. Also, 20% of the participants had different answers concerning the lack of safety of gas cylinders by using unclear or vague answers, such as "yes, there are problems," or "color of the cylinder," or "old cylinders."

Social media platforms are important ways for direct communication with members of the public through asking questions and getting answers in cases that concern them. This method is used by reputable media outlets, which usually ask questions to the public to receive answers that form the basis of in-depth investigations and revealing absent facts.

AKEED took the complaints of citizens to the concerned agencies, which offered different answers to the complaints that affect the life of citizens.

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JSMO: Defect in Valve, Not Content

Dr. Haidar al-Zibn, director general of the JSMO, acknowledged that there was a defect in gas cylinders, which basically has to do with the valve, and not the shape or content. In statements to AKEED, al-Zibn said that the JSMO received 251 complaints last year on gas cylinders, 91 of which had to do with valves. He said that these complaints remain "claims" until they are verified. He said that after verification, it turned out that 14 were valid complaints. This year, nine complaints related to valves proved to be valid. He indicated that 1.650 million valves were imported. They were checked by the JSMO before the JPRC started installing them in the beginning of December 2016.

On the existence of water inside the cylinders, al-Zibn said: "No case has been proven." He added that some cases of so-called "halving" were monitored. In this practice, half of the gas is taken from full cylinders and put in empty cylinders. He noted that a number of these cases were referred to court. He said that the JSMO is the only agency that has control over this issue. He noted that three gas distribution centers were closed because of repeated violations. These centers had previously received a warning because of a violation they committed.

CPS: Some Parties Hiding Failure

Dr. Mohammed Obeidat, head of the CPS, said that "many institutions seek to hide their failure. Some media outlets adopt the statements of these parties and show courtesy toward them. These outlets do not play their real role as fourth estate."

Obeidat blamed some media outlets for hosting persons they describe as experts, saying: "Those people do not always tell the truth. Many of them offer inaccurate messages that distort the values and beliefs of citizens on some issues related to protecting consumers, including the issue of gas."

He pointed out that the CPS conveys citizens" complaints to the concerned agencies, including the JSMO, which is the government agency that has control on gas. It turned out that many of the complaints were credible. He added that the JSMO played its role in facing this problem, saying that the CPS deals with real and accurate complaints and removes malicious complaints, which totaled 25.

Fuel Association: Two Cases of Water and Impurities Detected

Engineer Nahar Seidat, president of the Gas Stations and Distribution Centers Owners Association, told the AKEED Monitor that "most of the problems of gas cylinders occur because of mishandling and installing the cylinder incorrectly." He indicated that in 2016, around 32 million gas cylinders were replaced, including 100 cases only related to valve problems. He downplayed loading and unloading as a cause of defects in cylinders.

On the difficulty of closing or opening the valve, Seidat said: "It is a safety valve; it does not need excessive flexibility." He indicated that the JPRC replaces 1.2 million valves annually, all of which are subject to tests with high professionalism by the JSMO. The valves are made in Italy and are of high quality.

On the existence of water and impurities in the cylinders, Seidat said: "Two cases were detected. Those people have criminal records and are from outside the sector of gas distributors. The two cases were referred to the judiciary."

JPRC: No Returned Cylinders Because of Defective Valves

Haidar al-Bashaireh, press spokesman for the JPRC, told AKEED that "gas cylinders do not leave filling stations before completing several stages of examination and thorough checks. He said that the valve is a sensitive part and is affected by transportation.

He added that the JPRC did not receive any returned cylinders from distributors because of defectives valves. He said that "the responsibility of the JPRC ends when cylinders exit the distribution centers affiliated with it."

On the weight of the cylinder, he said that the weight of the gas is 12.5 kg, while the weight of the empty cylinder is usually between 15 and 16.5 kg, depending on the manufacturer. He noted that the JPRC would rehabilitate cylinders by cleaning and painting them.

CDD: Most Incidents Caused by Misuse   

Brigadier General Fareed Sharaa, media director and press spokesman at the CDD, said that "most incidents related to gas cylinders are due to misuse." He indicated that when dealing with any incident suspected to be caused by a defect in the gas cylinder, the cylinder is seized and sent, along with a detailed report of the incident, to the JPRC to examine the case. He pointed out that mishandling the cylinder by gas distributors when loading and unloading, rolling it on the ground by some citizens, and the long period of usage cause damage to the cylinder and sometimes to the valve.

Brigadier General Mohammed al-Awawdeh, director of operations at the CDD, said that no direct explosion of a gas cylinder has been reported over the past two years. The explosion that occurs sometimes is due to a fire, which causes the gas to expand and then the cylinder to explode.

Al-Awawdeh pointed out that there were numerous reasons for gas leaks, including wrong installation, breaks in the hose, not using anti-leakage rubber gaskets, and a faulty gas regulator and valve. He said that the final reports of the CDD on incidents of suffocation or fire explain whether the reason is gas leakage or not, but they do not elaborate on the source of the leakage, be it the valve, the hose, or others. 

CDD figures are not the reference for gas incidents. The operations management at the CDD records only the incidents that it handles. The media published news about eight deaths in January and February 2017, which have been verified, as follows:

  • 16-1-2017 Mafraq: Man dies and his wife suffers gas inhalation after suffocation by heater gas. (CDD)
  • 23-1-2017 Karak: Young man dies while taking a shower after suffocation by "gas-operated water heater." (Medical source)
  • 12-2-2017 Citizen and his wife die after suffocation by heater gas in Tafila. (CDD)
  • 23-1-2017 Twenty-year-old and her child die after suffocation by heater gas in Ramtha. (Security source)
  • 21-2-2017 Engineer dies in fire at house in Amman in district of Al-Ashrafiyah after explosion of cylinder. (Medical source)
  • 28-2-2017 Young man dies after suffocation by "gas-operated water heater" in Amman. (Medical source)

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Video of Citizen Showing Water in Cylinder

Activists on social media circulated a video clip that shows water and black impurities coming out of a gas cylinder. The video was posted by a citizen on his personal page.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) called citizen Mu"tazz Mohammed al-Rufou, who confirmed that he had filmed the clip. He told the Monitor that the cylinder was used for operating a water heater "geyser." Two days after installing it, the cylinder stopped working, thus raising suspicions.

He said that he had tried using it on another source of energy, but to no avail. He noticed that it was still heavy, saying that he opened it while it was in a horizontal position so that impurities would come out. He documented it and posted a video of it on social media sites. He said that he filmed the clip on 17 February 2017.

What confirms al-Rufou"s statement is that snow appears in the background of the film. Snow did fall on that date in southern Jordan.

Conflicting Statements

Media coverage of the issue has focused on the statements of the relevant parties. These outlets have not adopted the complaints of citizens and verified them to provide information, supported by evidence, to confirm or deny the story.

In the middle of February, there was some confusion due to conflicting and successive stories. While the CPS confirmed that the cylinders pose a threat to citizens" lives, the JPRC said that the cylinders were in good condition, according to statements published by the press.

News sites and daily newspapers paid great attention to publishing a statement by the CPS and a clarification by the JPRC because this issue affects every household in Jordan and such news has high readership.

Some media outlets followed up on this issue with the JSMO, which is a neutral oversight body. The JSMO acknowledged, based on the headline of a story published on 19 February, seizing adulterated gas cylinders. The story included exclusive statements by the director general of the JSMO. However, on the next day, 20 February, a news site published a conflicting headline, quoting al-Zibn, as follows "No Gas Cylinders Threatening Lives of Citizens," in which he announced that there were no gas cylinders in the Kingdom that threaten the lives of citizens, noting that the JSMO is responsible for this if it is proven to be true.   

Also, other news sites followed up on the issue with Nahar Seidat, president of the Gas Stations Owners Association, who said that the association had received a number of complaints, chiefly that there was water inside the gas cylinders. Meanwhile, Haidar al-Qammaz, press spokesman for the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said that there was a joint committee that included representatives from the Ministry, JPRC, JSMO, and competent agencies to examine cylinders periodically and discard cylinders that are not fit for usage.

The JPRC organized a tour for journalists of the Amman Gas Station. The journalists published reports, some stating that "the stages of filling gas cylinders, starting with its production, import, storage, and then filling, do not allow for the existence of water or sand."

Media Plays Role of Controller

It is observed that media outlets largely depended on publishing statements issued by the concerned parties, which they send to the media in their own language and carry the message that they wish to communicate to the public. Other media outlets contacted the concerned parties and raised questions to shed light on this issue. However, the coverage did not include investigative reports on the truth of the gas cylinders in the market. Also, there were no field reports in the coverage to get the views of consumers.  

The statement of the CPS largely depended on the views of the public and citizens. This affects accuracy, objectivity, and balance. It did not provide evidence of these violations, which the media should have investigated.

Some media outlets were not successful in achieving the element of balance in reporting facts and opinions of sources. Initial reports reflected the statement of the CPS without contacting the other concerned parties or control agencies. Some headlines also lacked balance.

AKEED notes that Al Ghad daily published a feature on 16 November 2014 headlined "Mafias Manipulating Gas Cylinders," which spoke about adulterating household gas cylinders. The feature won the Al-Hussein Journalism Creativity Award. Since then, AKEED has not observed a media effort on this issue, which worries citizens.

Complaints of Citizens Not Dispelled by Conflicting Statements

This issue shows an important aspect of media failure to communicate with citizens and look into the truth and seriousness of their complaints. Through following this issue, AKEED has observed the following:

  • The conflicting statements between official agencies do not exempt the media from reporting facts and going out to the field to identify shortcomings.
  • Media outlets have not conducted in-depth investigations to reveal the causes of incidents involving gas leaks. The key observation is that the media has been satisfied with reporting news about incidents without following up on their causes and identifying the parties responsible for human and material losses caused by these incidents.

Focusing on issues that have a direct effect on citizens is the core function of the media. It is not enough to depend on official statements as main sources for publishing reports. There is a pressing need for listening to people"s voices as they are the stakeholder and main party to the case.   

The voice of citizens on social media sites and in the media is a reflection and echo of the fear that haunts them of the danger of gas cylinders. Revealing shortcomings is the role assigned to the media. The hundreds of citizen complaints that AKEED has received emanate from fear for oneself or for others that they might be the next victim. This voice is an alert to concerned parties that they should carry out their duties vis-à-vis this essential consumer commodity, which is indispensable for every household.

Gas cylinders are considered very dangerous items. It is totally inconceivable to justify any defect in them, no matter how small, because it simply means disregard for the life of citizens.