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Scientists argue over cause of vehicle fires

Update: February, 11/2012 - 11:52


Photo shows a motorbike after it burst into flames in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District. Petrol quality is said to be the main cause of many vehicle fires and explosions. — VNA/VNS Photo Doan Tan
HA NOI — The potential causes of a recent spate of vehicle fires and explosions was a hot topic among scientists at a conference in Ha Noi yesterday held by the Department of Science and Technology.

One controversial view was that petrol quality had played a role in the incidents.

During the first half of December, in Ha Noi alone, there were reports of 42 cars and motorbikes mysteriously catching fire. A public stir has arisen because no cause has been found for most of the incidents.

Nguyen Van Son from the Ha Noi Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting reported that to date, causes have been found for about 65 per cent of all vehicle fires and explosions throughout the country during the past two years.

The number-one cause was electric short-circuits, making up more than 30 per cent of the cases, followed by negligence during use, collisions or arson.

"None of the incidents have been attributed to the quality of petrol," Son said.

Le Canh Hoa from the Viet Nam Standards and Quality Institute insisted that petrol standards should never be blamed. "Petrol additives such as methanol or ethanol were safe for vehicles when limited to less than 10 per cent of the total fuel."

Vu Thi Thu Ha from the Institute of Industrial Chemistry agreed, saying: "Petrol with the allowable percentage of additives was appropriate for all kinds of vehicles which currently operate in Viet Nam."

On the other hand, Hoang Manh Hung from the Chemical Society of Viet Nam disagreed, saying that vehicle fires and explosions could be traced back to the quality of petrol.

He pointed out that petrol mixed with additives, especially methanol, could gradually erode engine parts made of rubber, plastic or aluminium which could cause fuel leakage or generate a flammable mixture.

Many scientists at the workshop agreed with Hung. They were prone to believing that petrol quality was a main cause of vehicle fires or explosions, although other matters such as inappropriate vehicle maintenance, quality of vehicle parts and harsh operating conditions were also mentioned.

According to president of the Chemical Society of Viet Nam Bui Thi An, strict punishments were needed to prevent petrol suppliers from selling low quality petrol.

Petrol additives should only be sold when they were certified to be safe, she said. Inspections of petrol business must be enhanced.

During the past two years, 324 vehicles have caught fire or exploded throughout the country, 85 per cent of which were cars, according statistics of the Ministry of Public Security's Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting. – VNS

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