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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Recently installed gas tubes at risk for lightning-caused fires

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | May 28, 2013 4:57 PM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

A certain kind of gas tubing may be putting Pennsylvania homeowners at risk of gas leaks and fires in the event of a lightning strike.

Bright yellow, flexible gas tubing made of corrugated stainless steel has been linked to lightning-induced fires in states like Maryland, Indiana, Ohio, and New Hampshire in what appears to be a case of industry code lagging behind the technology.

In recent years, both manufacturers and the national fuel gas code have adopted new guidelines for installing the tubing to rule out fires caused by lightning strikes.

But Chris Swonger with Gastite, a company selling the tubing, said the first tip-off for homeowners that they have the problematic tubing should be its bright yellow color. Beyond that, homeowners should consider when their gas tubes were last installed. The tubing in question was introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s.

"If your home was built or installed, or built or renovated since 1990, there's a good chance, if you have gas in your home, [it] may be installed in your home," said Swonger. He said an electrician's inspection and alteration of the tubing could cost up to $150.

Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Ed Mann said the National Fuel Gas Code now requires the tubing, known as corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST), to be installed with more attention to the possibility of a lightning strike.

"If lightning strikes a structure where yellow CSST is installed, it is possible for electrical energy to arc and penetrate the tubing, potentially causing gas leaks or fires to occur in some cases," said Mann.

Pennsylvania is the latest state to be on the receiving end of a national awareness campaign led by manufacturers like Gastite and fire commissioners.

"We're doing everything we can to get the word out, state by state, to homeowners throughout the country," said Swonger.

Swonger estimates there are up to eight million homes in the U.S. that have tubing installed without being up to the most recent code.

Gastite is among four manufacturers that reached a multi-million dollar settlement in a 2006 class action lawsuit related to fires in Arkansas linked to yellow flexible tubing.


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