Monday, April 23, 2012

Liquid Propane Barbeque Tanks-Are They Safe?

Recently in the news was the story of a gas propane tank exploding in the back of a pick-up truck at a McDonalds parking lot in Coachilla, California.

According to officials, a man was severely burned  and his two children narrowly escaped serious injury when a propane tank exploded in the back of their pick-up truck that was in the drive-thru line at McDonalds next to a local Home Depot.  The blast completely destroyed the truck, damaged the restaurant and other vehicles that were parked over 75 feet away after being struck by projectiles from the failed cylinder.  "The explosion was caused by static electricity when the driver of the pick-up touched the valve of a propane tank because a bystander told him it was leaking" said Justin McGough, Battalion Chief for the Riverside County Fire Department.

According to McGough, the propane in the tank expanded because of temperatures over 100 degrees, causing it to BLEVE, which is the acronym for Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, a phenomena that can occur in vessels containing many various types of gases when heated sufficiently enough to expand.

The man, according to witnesses, was driven to John M Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio where he is being treated for severe burns sustained in the fire.  The man's two children sustained only minor injuries and were treated and released.

Since this incident I have received numerous phone calls from citizens concerned about this and now question if it is safe to transport their BBQ tanks to get refilled or use at all.  The answer to that question is yes, the tanks that you use to fuel your barbecue are perfectly safe as long as you follow a few safety guidelines when dealing with liquid propane gas or LPG. 

First, lets talk briefly about just what LPG is and the safety benefits of propane.  Propane is a carbon-based gas that can be compressed into a transportable liquid under pressure.  Propane is actually a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining; in fact, propane was first discovered as a flammable component of gasoline.  Propane is commonly used as a fuel for internal combustion engines, oxy-gas torches, barbecues, portable stoves, and even residential heating and cooking.  LPG is actually a mixture of propane, butane, and small amounts of propylene and/or butylene.  All commercial propane fuels are mixed with an odorant so people can quickly detect a leak should it occur.

According to the Florida Propane Gas Safety, Education and Research Council, propane tanks are 20 times more punctured resistant than tanks filled with other fuels such as gasoline, methanol and ethanol.  Propane tanks are made of carbon steel and are equipped with several safety devices including a mechanism for cutting off the filling process when the tank reaches 80% capacity;  this allows for a certain amount of expansion at ambient temperatures.  Propane has a lower flammable rating of any other alternative fuel.  Leaks are easily detected due to a strong pungent smell introduced in the gas that gives off an odor of rotten eggs.  Propane will not contaminate the water or soil and unlike other fuels like gasoline, propane cannot be ingested internally because it vaporizes as soon as it leaves it's container.  Unlike gasoline with an ignition temperature of 430 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, propane will not ignite until the air reaches at least 940 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, there are some definite hazards associated with LPG that every consumer and user of this commodity should be aware of.  The Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS identifies Odorized Propane hazards as follows:

  • Keep away from heat, sparks, flame, and all other ignition sources.
  • Vapor replaces oxygen available for breathing (Simple Asphyxiant) and may cause suffocation in confined spaces.
  • Use only with adequate ventilation.
  • Reliance upon detection of odor may not provide adequate warning of potentially hazardous concentrations.
  • Vapor is heavier than air; may collect at low levels.
  • Liquid can cause freeze burn similar to frostbite.
  • Do not get liquid in eyes, on skin, or on clothing.
  • Avoid breathing vapor.
  • Keep service valve closed when not in use.

The Florida Propane Gas Safety, Education and Research Council distributes an exceptional propane safey information pdf. on their website at  that provides the consumer with numerous safety guidelines for propane use including safety tips for barbecue grilling, for use in home heating and cooking and also provides planning suggestions to prepare you and your family for major storms and other emergencies. 

Another excellent source for safety information regarding propane use can be found though the Propane Education & Research Council on their website at   And of course, an always fantastic resource is on the NFPA website at  

1 comment:

  1. That is quite a sight to see. Thanks for your insights. My husband and I have been going back and forth with propane tanks seattle wa so this is a great reference to have!