The Ottumwa Courier, Editorial By BEV GARTNER

With the rash of gas explosions that have taken place these past weeks so close to home, I am compelled to respond to the recent reports on them. Stories like these continue to be reported across the United States every week.

The family of seven that was killed in Richland in 1999 that you referred to in your reports was my family.

Like many families, we were celebrating the last days of summer with a barbecue. Our party ended when a huge explosion completely destroyed the house and killed my parents, three sisters, a brother-in-law, and a 6-year-old niece. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the way it all happened. It seems like it was just yesterday and I’m afraid that it will always be very vivid and etched in my brain.

A gas line out in the yard had been slightly punctured two days earlier, and propane gas seeped through the ground and settled in the basement.

No one heard it.

No one smelled it.

No one knew that such a monster was lurking there.

At 3:30 p.m. that Labor Day, the gas ignited, took my family and left me and others fighting for our lives. I suffered third degree burns on almost 70 percent of my body and have undergone 13 surgeries and two years of physical therapy. My physical and emotional injuries continue to heal, but our family’s mission now is to help prevent this from happening to other families.

It appears to me that gas companies still refuse to accept the responsibility that they are not doing an effective job of educating and warning of the dangers of Liquid Propane gas. How many more people have to die before it is no longer economically feasible for them to ignore the fact that they are not doing an effective job of educating and warning LP gas users of the dangers and how to effectively protect themselves in the event of a gas leak?

Anytime I have ever heard a TV or radio commercial about LP gas, it has said that it is clean, efficient, and a reliable source of energy. (They don’t use the word “safe”!) Nothing is ever said about how dangerous it can be and what a consumer can do to protect themselves against a potential gas leak and explosion.

I have learned a lot in the past 4 + years. Believe me, a lot more than I ever cared to learn about.

There are five critical issues I want to touch on.

* Gas detectors.

Gas detectors have been around for over 20 years, but very few people know about them. Most people think that if they have a carbon monoxide detector it will detect any gas. This is not true. There is a simple devise that can be purchased at Menards, True Value, and because of our tragedy, Target carries them nationwide. They cost around $50 and detects carbon monoxide, natural gas and propane gas. You plug it into any electrical outlet and even has a battery backup system.

* Odor fade.

Most people know that natural gas and liquid propane gas in its natural state is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Most people also know that an odorant is addedto give it the foul smell. However, very few know that this odorant can fade in the tank, can be absorbed into soil, concrete, furniture, etc. and can be masked by cooking odors. Some people have a dulled sense of smell due to age, medical conditions, etc. A recent study indicates that 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have lost their sense of smell to some degree. This represents 14 million Americans and this doesn’t even include those who suffer from colds, asthma, smoking, etc. Even during sleep you will not smell anything. Therefore, the odorant that people rely on as a warning of a gas leak is highly ineffective. People assume that if they do not smell gas, they are safe. This is not true.

* LP Density issue.

My Father retired from a natural gas company after 32 years of service. I remember him talking about gas being odorless and colorless, but I don’t remember him ever talking about the density differences between natural gas and liquid propane gas. Natural gas is lighter than air and rises, LP is heavier than air and sinks. If LP gas enters your home at the lowest level, as was the case with my family, it will not rise to your nose to alert you of a gas leak. The odorant binds with the gas and stays with the gas. Once again, this makes the odorant that people rely on highly ineffective. No one smelled anything the day of my family’s explosion.Depending on whether you have natural gas or LP detremines where you put a gas detector in your home, either above or below your gas source.

* Gas line location.

Do you really know where your lines are? Do you know how deep they are? Sure the gas company can come out and mark where they are on your property, but do they check to see how deep they are? Has erosion worn away the ground above your lines? In our case, the line was only 4 inches deep. Iowa law states that gas lines are supposed to be 18 inches deep. You could be planting flower bulbs in your yard and nick a line. Routine inspections need to be done on a regular basis.

* Changes already made.

All recreational vehicles of any type are required to have a gas detector installed as standard equipment if manufactured after 1996. This means that a pop-up camper with a 20 gallon propane tank has more protection against gas leaks than does a family home with a 500 gallon LP tank or city natural gas lines feeding their home. Does this make sense to you?

The new furnace we had installed in our home has a gas detector built right in.Why can’t gas dryers, gas stoves, any gas appliance have a detector built right in?

Any new house built in Polk County has to have a gas detector installed in order to pass final building inspections.

We all have smoke detectors and most have carbon monoxide detectors. We are reminded every spring and fall to check and change batteries. Why is it not common knowledge of gas detectors? I am saddened and alarmed that more people have to die before something is done.

My goal is not to scare people out of using gas. My goal is to make sure that a gas user is effectively educated and warned. If this message of gas detectors prompts a family to install a detector in their home … and I later find out that this detector warned the family of a gas leak … and that family escapes safely … then I have succeeded.

I want the gas industry to do more than protect itself from lawsuits. I want them to do their part in educating and protecting consumers from death and injury from gas explosions. I want to see more education, legislation, regulation, and more effective safety procedures implemented.

Please help me get the word out. Please contact me if you have any further questions or concerns. I would be very willing to come speak to your group or organization. For more information go to: www.safetalert.com.

I don’t want any other families to go through the pain, suffering, and loss that our family has gone through the last 4 + years.

The only way to be completely and totally safe from any gas explosion is to have a gas detector in your home.