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Move seeking ban on hydrogen balloons

  • Published at 12:39 am November 6th, 2019
Hydrogen Cylinder
Representational image: An abandoned warehouse with hydrogen gas canisters used to fill balloon in Dhaka's Shahbag area Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The department has drafted a set of five recommendations including the proposed ban, which is likely to be submitted to the ministry on Wednesday

In the wake of the October 30 blast in Mirpur, that killed seven children, Department of Explosives has finally planned to approach Energy Ministry to ban the illegal and risky use of highly combustible hydrogen gas in balloons.

The department has drafted a set of five recommendations including the proposed ban, which is likely to be submitted to the ministry on Wednesday. 

On October 30, seven children were killed and some 25 others injured when a gas cylinder – used for inflating balloons – exploded near a slum in Dhaka's Rupnagar area.

Md Samsul Alam, chief inspector of explosives, said they want the ban to be in place within the shortest possible time, only to avoid repetition of such incidents.  

File photo: A critically injured child arrives at Dhaka Medical College Hospital to receive treatment on Thursday, October 31, 2019 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

“But, we specifically are proposing that hydrogen gas be banned for pumping up balloons since its manufacturing process is extremely hazardous,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday.

The other four recommendations are: discouraging children from buying hydrogen balloons, stopping vendors from selling such balloons, strict monitoring from local authorities, and listing hawkers and shops selling balloons only filled with non-explosive helium gas.

Samsul said: “Listing hawkers and shops selling balloons filled with non-explosive helium gas will help authorities to find the people who use hydrogen gas to pump balloons,” he opined.  

He also said that till now there is no authorized government agency to monitor the risky and illegal business. Thus, the balloon sellers take advantage of the situation by modifying cylinders into improvised gas-producing reactors by cutting off the regulators. They mix caustic soda, powdered aluminum and water inside the cylinders to produce highly inflammatory hydrogen gas, putting lives at risk at all the time, said the chief inspector of explosives.

According to a report from the latest incident of the tragedy, the balloon seller, Abu Sayeed, was producing hydrogen on his own, leading to the casualties. 

There are also numerous media reports on casualties from such blasts from parts of the country in recent years, with the previous two accidents being on January 25 and March 21, killing two balloon sellers and injuring many.

What makes hydrogen so dangerous?

While readily abundant in the atmosphere, hydrogen is an extremely combustible gas when in contact with oxygen. 

The biggest hydrogen balloon accident happened on May 6, 1937 when the German passenger airship Hindenburg explosion killing 36 people in Manchester, New Jersey, US. 

The vessel caught on fire when it tried to land  the flames quickly spread forward first consuming cells 1 to 9, and the rear end of the structure imploded. Almost instantly, two tanks burst out of the hull as a result of the shock of the blast.

This disaster promptly banned the use of hydrogen in non-scientific use up until recently when it began to be used as experimental fuel. 

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