Stainless Steel Flexible Gas Lines
Stainless Steel Flexible Gas Line, Lightning-Related Fires And Gas Leaks Lawsuits
Flexible gas lines constructed of plastic-coated, corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) may be the culprit in some lightning-related fires and gas leaks in at least one dozen states, raising concerns about CSST pipe use for gas lines.
Developed in Japan to protect against breaks resulting from earthquakes, CSST was introduced domestically more than two decades ago to replace the much less flexible, traditional gas piping. Having become increasingly common in new homes, hundreds of millions of CSST flexible gas lines have been installed in the United States at a significantly higher cost than black metal piping.
Fire officials and researchers are trying to determine if faulty CSST, incorrect installation, or some other issue is to blame for the fires. Some fire officials believe electrical charges from lightning storms move through the CSST, puncturing the tubing, which leads to gas leaks and fires. The National Fire Protection Association’s research foundation—a group that implements national construction codes—is also looking into how to minimize CSST’s lightening-related risks and has been speaking with manufacturers and insurers on the matter.
Stainless Steel Flexible Gas Line Lawsuits Pending
Meanwhile, dozens of lawsuits are pending involving CSST pipe which allege the flexible stainless steel gas lines led to blazes ignited by lightning hits.
In one class-action lawsuit filed in Arkansas against several manufacturers, allegations included that CSST posed an unreasonable risk of fire from lightning strikes. At least one report indicated that, according to the agreement, a 2006 settlement worth about $29 million resolved the matter. In another case, a wrongful death lawsuit alleged that CSST gas line failure led to a 2008 fire that left three children and their grandmother dead in South Dakota.
Another report indicated that, four homes caught fire in central Ohio during a half-day storm. The fire chief on the scene at the time said he believes a combination of lightning and CSST were to blame for the blazes. Lightning struck at or near the homes and, before the charge moved to a less resistant, nearby pathway, such as a metal ventilation duct, an electrical charge passed along the CSST, creating a puncture, which led to an ignitable gas leak.
Not unexpectedly, some manufacturers say there may be other factors, including faulty installation, to blame. For instance, gas lines that are not correctly grounded and bonded so that the CSST is linked to a system that pushes energy from a lightning strike down into the earth are being blamed. But, at least one Iowa fire marshal reports that an insurance contact there has blamed CSST piping for over 200 fires. Also, the fire marshal noted that he does not believe appropriate grounding and bonding solves the problem and said he has seen problems with properly bonded systems.
Firefighters and gas providers say these blazes tend to occur when a specific set of criteria are in place; these include, a newer building constructed with CSST, lightning striking in a location suited to create a CSST puncture, the CSST becoming punctured, and the spark that then ignites the gas. Some involved believe that other fires might have occurred that have not yet been linked to CSST gas pipes, but which likely involved CSST gas pipes; however, fire reports did not mention the tubing.
Meanwhile, at least one manufacturer, Omega Flex Inc., has begun selling CSST wrapped in a special covering that makes the tubing more resistant to lightning strikes and, in Indiana, new home bonding and grounding code requirements have been broadened.