Another fatal gas incident, killing 17 people at the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening, sent shockwaves through Mzansi. It was caused by a leakage of nitrate oxide from a gas cylinder used for illegal mining activities. Three children were among the 17 dead and several were hospitalised.
This incident comes after the Christmas Eve gas tanker explosion that left 41 dead in Boksburg about six months ago.
The recent gas incident in Boksburg has placed a spotlight on the safety of gas.
With the continuous load shedding and extreme cold conditions, people have sought alternative means to cook and keep warm, including gas and fires. These can be dangerous in enclosed spaces, especially to one’s health, and can even be deadly if there are no safety measures in place.
Fumes can cause breathing issues
Dr Manduleli Bikitsha, a physician in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, emphasises the importance of ensuring proper ventilation when using heaters, imbawula, gas, or any other devices that emit fumes or flames. He explains that most people die due to a lack of oxygen in their homes and that windows should be opened to allow air to enter.
Sabelo Ntombi, who stays in Pretoria and is exposed to imbawula and gas constantly because there is hardly electricity, says he is aware of the dangers of fumes but does not have a choice but to adjust.
“They use gas every day here where I stay, mainly for cooking. At home, I’ve been exposed to imbawula, where they burn dough or coal in it since I was young. I’ve had some respiratory issues and headaches, and I suffer from asthma because of it.
“Even though I am always exposed, I try by all means to avoid going too close to these fumes, as we were warned about possible fires from them since growing up,” Ntombi says.
Guide to domestic gas and fume safety
Bikitsha explains that gas stoves and heaters may occasionally fail to function properly, resulting in occasional instances of fire. While these occurrences are rare, it is important to take them into consideration.
“To ensure greater safety, it is important to switch off temperature extensions. Health problems that appear to worsen or only manifest when the heating is turned on could potentially be attributed to carbon monoxide emitted by a defective gas heater,” he explains.
People who live with asthma and breathing challenges often experience difficulties when there are extreme temperature changes. If this situation is not addressed promptly, it can potentially be life-threatening.
“It is important to be mindful of the symptoms associated with carbon monoxide exposure and to promptly seek medical attention if needed,” Bikitsha advises.
Follow safety measures
According to Arrive Alive, even though considered stable and safe, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) still possesses a certain degree of danger, just like any type of fuel.
“When gas does not burn properly or is used in an area without adequate ventilation, it produces excess carbon monoxide (CO) – a colourless, odourless gas. When inhaled, carbon monoxide binds to the haemoglobin in the blood. This reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, starving the body of oxygen and poisoning it,” explains Arrive Alive.
It can cause death, tiredness, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Arrive Alive gives these tips when you are smelling gas:
- Firstly, don’t panic. Try to turn off the valve of the bottle. If possible, move the cylinder outside.
- Do not light flames or create sparks to test for a leak – this includes lighting a cigarette.
- Don’t operate light switches, appliances or telephones.
- Leave the area with the doors and windows wide open.
- Do not use an electrical fan to try and blow away any leaking gas.
- Shut off the gas at the gas bottle valve by turning it clockwise.
- If there is a fire, try to turn off the valve of the bottle with a wet cloth to protect your hand. Then use the same wet towel to smother the flames.
- Store cylinders in an upright position.
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