a month ago

Complacency back after city fires

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As had been feared, oblivion and a sense of complacence started gripping the Dhaka dwellers after the terrible fire incidents two months ago. Of the supermarkets identified as vulnerable to fire disasters, a few have already been singled out. Mouchak market stands among them prominently. Experts have also focused on the busy Gausia building and a few other popular markets among them. Meanwhile, an explosion at a gas line digging site in the Dhupkhola area has lately injured several passersby. The recent fire disasters, the kind of which visited Dhaka almost one after another in the months of last March and April, cannot be ruled out for returning in the future. The fire near Science Laboratory on March 5 also witnessed an explosion. That fire has allegedly gas-triggered explosions in the morning at the venue, followed by a fire; then it emerged later in the form of a blaze, allegedly followed by a weird outburst of gas leakage. The gas smell came after a few days. The smell scare still remains a threat, because the problem has not been addressed sufficiently.  

The metallic smell of supply gas throughout large swathes of Dhaka recently and the detection of innumerable gas leakage sources have turned out to be a close call. Hadn't the panic-stricken city residents started creating an uproar and the Titas Gas authorities intervened promptly, there would have been big and small disasters in many parts of the capital. Dhaka is no stranger to supply gas related accidents. It was the blasts caused allegedly by accumulated gas in the pipeline of the commercial complexes in Dhaka that had stunned people. The residents have felt nonplussed as the Titas authorities pointed the finger at myriad small leaks in the gas pipelines; and the high pressure on the gas supply flows. It's anybody's guess as to how the gas authorities have been coping with these two hazards all these years.

Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company didn't fail to come up with their explanations on the gas leakages. To senior experts, these assurances might keep many potential hazards at bay. Putting the critical issue in perspective, many others stress the urgent need for failsafe devices. They can detect immediately the loopholes and negligence in the transmission and distribution systems, and correct them. Given the frequency of big and small gas pipe-related mishaps, the said mechanism ought to have long been in place. That it hasn't materialised is unfortunate. The failsafe mechanism in the modern times is a sine qua non for many industries, the communication sector, especially aviation, and for supply networks dealing with the essential services. During gas line repair works on roads, the scene of bubbles in the rain water accumulated at the place of digging work is a common sight.

Coming to the recent gas-smell episode, the term 'odorant' has been seen being used widely. According to the Titas authorities, they have mixed the household natural gas supplies with 'odorant', so that the leaked gas could be recognisable instantly. It's a wise and practical idea. But in fact, people in the areas filled with the smell of leaked gas have reportedly found the same old smell they have known for long. The news of the mixture should have been announced publicly. There was no special smell in the city neighbourhoods. According to Google dictionary, 'odorant' is actually methyl mercaptan. It is added to natural gas, usually in mixtures containing methane. Its smell is reminiscent of rotten eggs or cabbage. People hope, the authorities concerned will clarify the odorant mixture issue, as well as the substance's role in the detection of the leaked gas.

Titas Gas Company is in charge of operating a formidably large network of pipelines. As mentioned in a recent FE editorial, the company in 2021-22 "detected as many as 985 gas leaks at 449 points of 1,682-kilometre long pipeline of its total 7,000 km network it brought under its scrutiny. It means more than 5,000 km pipeline remains undetected." This staggering figure of undetected pipelines carries elements of extreme worries and panic. The capital has long been used to noticing the seemingly never-ending work of repairing underground gas pipelines. At times, the digging work remains left incomplete for indefinite periods.

In spite of being long used to handling gas burners, many in the city are unaware of how to operate them properly. This ignorance ranges from the lack of knowledge about turning the burners off completely after cooking to keeping at least one window of the kitchens open. It's because this practice doesn't allow the accidentally leaked gas to accumulate inside the kitchens. Upon entering a kitchen with insufficient openings, alert home-makers first open all windows and the door. Stopping these negligent behaviours doesn't fall within the duties of the gas distribution authorities. But due to their being the main source of gas supply, they can at least make the households aware of the hazards prompted by gas mishandling. Ignorance about the supply gas has led to many tragic accidents at city residences. Many have heaved a sigh of relief that Dhaka didn't turn into an inferno on the night of the city-wide gas leaks. Credits go to the authorities that they were able to deal aptly with a highly volatile situation.  But this is not the end of the story.   Why so many leaks began emitting gas almost at a time has started upsetting a section of people. The Titas authorities owe the Dhaka residents an unambiguous statement on the whole episode.


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