Praxair Distribution announced that it believes a mechanical failure in a gas cylinder caused the major fire at its St. Louis distribution facility on Chouteau Avenue on 24 June this year.

Praxair believes that the premature release of a safety relief valve on one or more gas cylinders containing flammable gas may have contributed to the extent of the St. Louis fire. Praxair does not manufacture cylinders or valves.

Praxair distribution president Wayne Yakich, said: “In the weeks since the fire occurred on that very hot Friday afternoon, Praxair safety experts have worked closely with both the St. Louis Fire Department and the Police Department to establish the cause of the fire.

“The most significant piece of evidence we have is a surveillance videotape, which was focused on a section of the storage yard containing cylinders and which captured what we believe is the actual beginning of the fire.

Mr Yakich continued: “However, there was major fire damage to all the cylinders and as a result, it has not yet been possible to establish exactly which cylinder began the fire or what type of gas was contained in it. We continue to work with a valve manufacturer in an effort to determine the exact cause.”

Praxair said that following the fire it inspected all of its propylene and propane cylinders in its inventory and at customer sites throughout the United States and Canada. As part of this inspection, a detailed review was also conducted of the storage and filling procedures for flammable gas cylinders. It also reviewed special precautions regarding leak checks and weight measurement procedures for these cylinders.

As a result of these inspections, Praxair learned that a particular relief valve was releasing gas from propylene cylinders prematurely, before the normal safety parameters were exceeded. As a result, Praxair removed 8,000 cylinder valves from service and replaced them. The valve manufacturer issued an inspection notice in July and a recall notification in August for certain valves in propylene gas service.

“At this time, we have not been able to link any particular manufacturer’s valves to the start of the fire in St. Louis as all the cylinder valves at the origin of the fire were very badly damaged,” Yakich emphasised.

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