By Campbell North | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The explosion of a propane tank on the back of a Philadelphia food truck that injured 12 people earlier this week might highlight a gap in safety inspections of some food trucks, which are growing in popularity across the country, including in Pittsburgh.
On Tuesday night, one of two propane tanks in the back of La Parrillada Chapina, a licensed food truck parked in the Feltonville neighborhood of Philadelphia, exploded in a fireball. Five of the injured were still in critical condition Wednesday night. At the time of the explosion, the truck’s owner, Olga Galdemez, 42; her daughter Jaylin Landaverry, 18; and two relatives, ages 13 and 27; were working inside.
Philadelphia police said Wednesday that grills on the Guatemalan food truck ignited propane vapor leaking from an unused tank.
It’s just the latest explosion that has occurred in food trucks across North America, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2011, the propane tank on a New York City food truck exploded after a car accident, burning two workers.
In 2012, a propane tank exploded on a food truck at the Canadian National Exhibition, causing $30,000 in damage. Three people were injured when a food truck exploded last year at a high school football game in Fresno, Calif.
A 2012 New York City fire department study on food trucks found several common fire hazards that could cause explosions, including the presence of multiple propane cylinders, hot fryer oil and grills, compressed gasses, high voltage electricity and bio hazards from unsafe sanitary conditions.
Locally, it is unclear who inspects food trucks for safety in their propane use.
Allegheny County currently has 289 licensed mobile food vendors, according to Guillermo Cole, county health department spokesman. They each go through a variety of food safety and sanitation inspections.
“The health department is concerned with food safety and sanitation regarding food trucks and has no role in general safety oversight,” he wrote in an email.
The trucks also undergo a yearly vehicle inspection required by the state Department of Transportation, but Rich Kirkpatrick, a PennDOT spokesman, said, “The inspection looks at the safety of the vehicle itself, but not anything supplemental like the addition of a propane tank.”
The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department also does not inspect propane tanks, according to Sonya Toler, public safety spokeswoman. She said the state excluded propane regulation from local control in the Propane Liquefied Petroleum Gas Act. She said the state regulates propane under its Labor and Industry Department. No one could be reached in that department Wednesday night.
Several food vendors, however, said Wednesday that the propane tanks on their trucks had not been inspected by any agency. They emphasized, however, that they follow safe practices to ensure problems do not arise.
Matt Huggins, manager and operator of the BRGR food truck, said, “The under-the-hood system and the ansul fire suppression system are regulated but as to the tank itself, no, but the plumbing and gas lines get looked at.”
Walter Augerie, owner of L.A. Taco truck, based in Kittanning, Armstrong County, also said that when their truck gets inspected no one directly looks at the propane tank.
“I saw what happened in Philadelphia and it is a very unfortunate and sad,” Mr. Augerie said. “We have signs all over our truck reminding people to make sure the knobs are off. You have to develop those standard procedures for yourself.”
Propane tanks, when properly monitored and inspected, are not dangerous, industry officials said.
“There are about 60 million grills that use propane in this country, but the number of incidents is fairly diminutive,” said Stuart Flatow, vice president for safety and training with the Propane Education and Research Council. “I hope people won’t have a knee-jerk reaction.”
His statement was echoed by Mr. Huggins at BRGR. “Like anything else there can be hazards, but done properly with safety and know-how, it’s not an issue.”