Attorney General Martha Coakley and State Fire Marshall Stephen Coan Release Findings of Testing of Unodorized Propane Supply in the State
Following Public Safety Concerns, Propane Expert Investigates and Concludes Tested Supply is Safe and Procedures are in Place to Prevent Future Distribution of Unodorized Propane from Major Westfield Facility
According to the report, prepared by independent examiner J. Roger Craddock of Engineering Systems Inc., unodorized propane was identified in five railcars at DCP's Westfield facility and under-ordorized propane at four facilities of DCP's customers. The problems that the expert identified have been remediated, and DCP has put procedures in place to prevent the future distribution of under or unodorized propane. State and Federal law requires odorant to be added to propane gas so that it may be detected in the event of a gas leak.
"Faced with a potentially widespread public safety hazard, we took immediate steps to determine whether unsafe propane was distributed to the public," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "With cooperation from DCP, an independent expert determined that most propane distributed from Westfield was properly odorized, and when the examiner identified under or unodorized propane, it was taken out of distribution or odorized on-site."
"We took the necessary steps to ensure public safety. While unodorized propane is not inherently dangerous, it is critical that propane be properly odorized so that a leak, which is dangerous, can be quickly detected," said State Fire Marshal Coan. ""As a result of the investigation, we are currently looking at proposing enhanced safety regulations to the State Fire Code."
On August 31, 2010, after identifying unodorized propane at DCP's Westfield facility, the Fire Marshal issued a cease and desist order, commanding DCP to cease operations at that facility. The Attorney General's Office and the Fire Marshal's Office took immediate steps to address the problem and prevent the further distribution of non-odorized propane by contacting the approximately 56 distributors in Massachusetts to test their product. Those tests were witnessed by State Police investigators and DFS code compliance officers. Of those 56 distribution centers, six were found to have insufficient levels of odorant. Those six facilities were shut down until the matter was corrected.
AG Coakley and Fire Marshal Coan also immediately began working with DCP to arrange for an independent examination to determine the scope of the problem by conducting testing, examining the distribution of propane supply from the Westfield terminal, and assessing the potential risk to the public. AG Coakley and Fire Marshal Coan issued a public safety advisory on September 2, raising concerns about unodorized propane. There had also been evidence that the faulty shipments may have been sent to other states for distribution and therefore the Massachusetts Fire Marshal contacted all affected states so that they could take the necessary steps in order to protect public safety.
On September 13, AG Coakley and Fire Marshal Coan reached an agreement with DCP, which required DCP to retain an independent expert - who would report to AG Coakley, Fire Marshal Coan, and DCP - to determine whether unodorized propane had entered the supply chain. The independent examiner tested DCP's entire supply of propane at Westfield, examined records and interviewed employees to determine where propane had been distributed, conducted sample testing of potentially unodorized propane stored by DCP's customers, and conducted selective downstream testing where the expert could determine that potentially unodorized propane from Westfield had been sold. DCP agreed to cover all costs of the independent examiner's investigation.
The independent examiner's findings include:
- At the time of inspection, five railroad tank cars containing unodorized propane remained within the DCP Westfield facility. All of these tank cars had been shipped to the Westfield terminal from Aux Sable Liquid Products between July 21, 2010 and July 27, 2010. Following the inspection, these tanks cars of unodorized propane were returned to Aux Sable Liquid Products.
- Railroad tank cars that contained propane scheduled for delivery to the DCP Westfield facility were tested and found to contain satisfactory levels of odorant to meet both Federal and Massachusetts requirements.
- The two 60,000-gallon bulk storage tanks located at the DCP Westfield facility, from which DCP distributes propane, were found to contain propane that met the Federal and Massachusetts requirements for odorization.
- With four exceptions, below, all DCP Westfield customers where under-odorized propane may have been distributed were found to have properly odorized propane at their facilities or had received a number of propane deliveries from other sources prior to and after September 1, 2010, such that it was not possible to determine if any unodorized or under-odorized propane had been delivered from the DCP Westfield facility.
- At four facilities associated with Heritage Propane in Sandwich and on Martha's Vineyard, testing confirmed deficient odorant. All of these facilities received the bulk of their propane from the DCP Westfield facility. Heritage Propane conducted independent testing, notified all affected customers, and addressed any deficient odorization issues.
Following a review of the Westfield facility by the independent examiner, the Fire Marshal lifted the cease and desist order, allowing Westfield to resume delivery operations. The independent examiner determined that DCP has taken steps to ensure that all future propane deliveries to the DCP Westfield facility are properly odorized to meet state and Federal requirements prior to being distributed to customers. Pursuant to AG Coakley's and Fire Marshal Coan's agreement with DCP, enhanced testing, subject to the Fire Marshal's ongoing review, will continue at the Westfield facility for two years.
The Attorney General and the State Fire Marshal have notified the Federal Rail Authority and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission who are reviewing the issues under their jurisdiction.
If you use piped propane inside your home, you should always take these precautions:
- Do not smoke indoors or near propane tanks.
- If you have a power outage, use flashlights and battery-operated candles instead of traditional flame candles
- Consider purchasing a gas detector (it could cost approximately $60)
- Do NOT attempt to inspect your system yourself. That could create a leak that did not previously exist. Work with your local delivery company
If you are cooking with an LP-Gas grill tank, you should always take the following precautions:
- Make sure connections are tight.
- Use outdoors only
- Use ten feet away from building
- Do not use on balconies above the first floor.
For additional information and to review the examiner's report please visit the Attorney General's website at www.mass.gov/ago/propane.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Engel handled this matter on behalf of AG Coakley's Consumer Protection Division. Timothee C. Rodrique, director of the Division of Fire Safety and Steven Rourke, DFS general counsel, handled this matter on behalf of State Fire Marshal Coan.