/ 8 November 2013

Zim: Transporting ethanol a major safety concern

Ignatius Chombo has asked the city to pull out of the Hilton project.
Ignatius Chombo has asked the city to pull out of the Hilton project.

The road accident involving a Green Fuel ethanol tanker and a truck, which killed 24 people, many of whom were burnt beyond recognition, in Chisumbanje, Manicaland, last week has raised questions about the safety of transporting the highly flammable fuel on the country's roads.

Although Zimbabwe has started rehabilitating some of its major highways, most roads in the interior are not in good shape and dangerous substances, including poisonous chemicals and fuel, are still transported by road, largely because of the National Railways of Zimbabwe's lack of capacity.

The government's decision about mandatory blending of unleaded petrol and the highly flammable ethanol has resulted in another ­dangerous substance being ­carried on the country's roads and it appears that little thought has gone into safety issues.

The Sun-Journal-HR reports that ethanol fires are more ferocious and harder to put out than petrol fires. They require an expensive type of firefighting foam that many fire departments do not have or are not trained to use.

Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo said ethanol and other dangerous substances should ideally be carried by rail.

His department manages the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), whose mandate is to ensure public safety by coming up with strategies that minimise national disasters, identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and strengthen disaster management.

'Measures in place'
Chombo said his department would play a facilitatory role by advising other departments such as transport, about how the substance should be handled, although the CPU would fulfil its role of raising public awareness.

CPU director Madzudzo Pawadyira said the tankers that were being used to carry ethanol, petrol and other dangerous products were specially made to minimise the possibility of disasters.

"There are regulations which state that such substances should be carried during daylight. This is one of the measures in place to ensure public safety. In addition, trucks carrying dangerous chemicals or liquids are not allowed in populated areas. In the case of Harare, we have Harare Drive, which they use to avoid the central business district," he said.

Green Fuels did not respond to questions about its safety measures.