Flexible Steel Gas Lines Linked To Fires

Flexible plastic-coated steel gas lines are being linked to a number of fires in at least a dozen states. The lines are constructed of plastic-coated, corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) and are meant to be more flexible than older generation rigid gas piping.

CSST was developed in Japan in response to gas line breaks that tend to occur with earthquakes. The product was introduced in the United States over 20 years ago to replace traditional gas piping, said The Associated Press (AP), and experts in the U.S.  are concerned that CSST is to blame in a number of blazes. More expensive than black metal piping, hundreds of millions of CSST lines have been installed in U.S. homes.

Experts are looking into what is causing fires in CSST homes to determine if it is the CSST, faulty installation, or some other issue. Some fire officials say that when electrical charges from lighting strikes move through the tubing, they can puncture the CSST, which can cause gas leaks and fires, said The AP. Manufacturers say the CSST is not to blame and fault shoddy installation and gas lines not properly grounded and bonded, which would link the CSST to a system that moves energy from the lightning strike safely into the earth.

But, one fire marshal in Iowa said that an insurance contact blames CSST for over 200 fires there, said The AP. The fire marshal pointed out that he does not believe appropriate grounding and bonding resolves CSST fire issues and said he’s seen problems with systems that are properly bonded.

The issue has also received the attention of the National Fire Protection Association’s research foundation, a group that puts national construction codes in place. The Association is now speaking to CSST manufacturers, insurers, and others and is conducting research into ways in which potentially CSST-associated lightning risks can be minimized, said The AP.

Dozens of CSST lawsuits are pending and blame the flexible gas lines for fires ignited by lightning hits. The AP discussed a class-action lawsuit filed in Arkansas that was settled in 2006 with several manufacturers for about $29 million and a wrongful death lawsuit that alleged that CSST failure caused a 2008 fire that killed three children and their grandmother in South Dakota.

Also recently, four Ohio homes caught fire during an intense storm this summer. The fire chief there said believes lightning and CSST caused the  blazes after a strike at or near the homes passed through the CSST before finding its way to a safer pathway, said The AP. The electrical charge likely passed through the CSST, puncturing a hole there, which created an gas leak that caught fire, which is consistent with what some firefighters and gas providers are saying.

Many believe that a specific set of circumstances must be in place for the blazes to occur. The building must be constructed with CSST, lightning must strike in a location that enables a CSST puncture, the CSST must become punctured, and a spark must ignite gas, The AP explained. Some believe other fires, which have not yet been linked to CSST, have been caused by the combination of CSST and lighting strikes.

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