National, Back Page

Hydrogen instead of helium in gas balloons!

Published : 01 Nov 2019 09:31 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 08:26 PM

Cylinders used by balloon sellers generally contain helium gas. But, according to the Department of Explosives, vendors selling gas baloons in Bangladesh illegally produce highly combustible hydrogen gas inside the cylinders, putting lives at risk. Over the years, numerous people have been killed and injured across the country in explosions and fires caused by cylinders of compressed natural gas (CNG) used in vehicles, and liquefied petroleum gas (LGP), used for cooking, and the ones used by balloon sellers.

Chief Inspector of Explosives Md Samsul Alam told the media that the balloon sellers usually modify abandoned CNG, LPG or other types of cylinders and use them illegally. “We don't have any way to track them as they are mobile.” “They turn these cylinders into improvised gas-producing reactors by cutting off the regulators. Then they mix caustic soda and powdered aluminium inside the cylinders to produce hydrogen gas on the go,” he said.

“But when they don’t, the chemical reaction inside the cylinder continues to produce hydrogen gas, which in turn generates immense pressure and increases temperature inside, posing the risk of explosion,” Samsul said. He alleged that the fatal blast at Rupnagar occurred when the balloon seller applied the same formula to produce hydrogen gas — which, he stressed, was illegal.

Such hydrogen gas cylinders should be used only after they are properly produced in an authorized factory, he added. “But these balloon sellers are producing hydrogen gas on their own, putting lives at risk.” Most of these incidents take place due to faulty cylinders or leaked pipes or lack of awareness of the users, according to officials concerned.

According to experts, these accidents are caused by the use of 'forbidden' hydrogen instead of safe helium. The cylinders used to inflate the balloon are not actually cylinders, but gas-producing reactors. Modified, the gas cylinder creates a method for making hydrogen gas inside the cylinder.

Hydrogen gas is formed through caustic soda and aluminum powder inside the cylinder. With the help of this, the balloon will swell. The cylinder knob is usually closed if there is no customer after the boil. During this period hydrogen gas begins to build up.

Explosive experts have said that many balloon sellers use faulty cylinders or leaked pipes which lead to such fatal accidents. But it is also because the balloon sellers often modify abandoned CNG, LPG or other types of gas cylinders and instead of helium, use materials to provide hydrogen gas to create the pressure. All this, according to experts, is illegal, yet the practice continues with little action from the authorities to stop it.

The use of hydrogen gas in balloons has stopped since 200 years ago in other countries after the discovery of helium gas. However, hydrogen gas balloons are being sold publicly in the country. They also compared the balloon to a bomb. Because, with the heat, the hydrogen gas balloon will explode

The explosives department says they have sent letters to the police stations several times to arrest the unauthorized cylinder carriers used to fill the gas in the balloon. But the police did not take any action. And police say the explosives department is trying to avoid liability through the letter. They could campaign with the help of police or mobile courts.

Police on Thursday filed a case against gas balloon vendor Abu Sayed at Rupnagar Police Station. Abu Sayed, who was injured in the blast, is being treated at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Mirpur Division Deputy Commissioner of Police Mostak Ahmed yesterday said that he had joined a few months ago. After his arrival, no letter has been received from the explosives department at any police station in Mirpur division.

However, he admits that law enforcers have a responsibility. In addition, the Explosives Directorate may seek the help of police to launch a raid against gas balloon vendors using cylinders. At least seven people died when a gas cylinder exploded during a balloon flipping on Wednesday (October 30) in Rupnagar, Mirpur.

Gas balloon vendor Abu Sayed was arrested on the night after the blast. During interrogation, Abu Saeed said that he used to buy chemicals from Chawkbazar to produce gas and sell balloons.

Rupnagar Police Station Officer-in-Charge, Abul Kalam Azad said, Abu Sayed was under treatment at Suhrawardy after the blast. We arrested him from there and made the initial inquiry. He admitted to starting a balloon business by buying chemicals from Chawkbazar and producing gas by himself. Before that he worked in a clothing factory and later in a tailor's shop. After leaving that job, he started the color gas balloon business since 15-20 days ago.