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LPG taxis’ ‘ailing’ tales ‘anecdotal, unscientific’

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 02:27 AM November 06, 2011

A taxi driver has his LPG tank filled up in a fuel station bay along EDSA, Cubao, Quezon City. INQUIRER file photo

(Last of a series)

Even the Rolls Royce of England’s Queen Elizabeth is fitted with an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) conversion kit.

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Or so the LPG conversion industry leaders claim as they protest against what they say are the “unscientifically proven” claims of cab drivers and passengers concerning the allegedly harmful effects of LPG.

Against these unscientific claims are the proven beneficial effects to the environment of LPG fuel, which the governments of Hong Kong, South Korea and other countries have realized as they have mandated its use for public transport, the industry players said.

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No scientific or medical basis

Cielo Fregil, managing director of Global Ambient Hi-Technology Systems, said she was “very unhappy” with the Philippine Daily Inquirer special report containing “anecdotal stories” from cab drivers claiming to have suffered asthma attacks or weight loss from LPG inhalation, which she said had no scientific or medical basis.

Fregil is engaged in the LPG conversion business. She has converted more than 10,000 taxi cabs to date, and has been driving an LPG-powered car for the past six years. She said neither she nor the cab drivers [in a sister car-leasing company] have fallen ill from years of driving an LPG-run car.

18,731 converted cabs

“If your story was true, all 36,000 drivers of the 18,731 taxicabs that we have converted would have sickened and [the Department of Health] would have raised an alarm,” Fregil said.

Quezon City Councilor Bong Suntay, who operates the Basic Taxi fleet and is said to own  Clean Fuel (one of the largest chains of LPG stations in Metro Manila), made the same observation.

“All my taxis have been converted to LPG. I have been using LPG since 2003, and none of my drivers ever raised health concerns nor have I had a driver who became sick because of driving an LPG vehicle. The vehicle that I use to bring me to work and around town also runs using LPG and I have never experienced any of the effects that the article mentioned,” he said.

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Fregil claimed that LPG was “nontoxic” when inhaled and that even the DOH, which did a study on its suspected harmful effects, found that it did not cause respiratory ailments.

“The LPG being used in a car is the same LPG being used in your kitchen. There are neither cooks nor chefs in the restaurant and industrial applications complaining about the harmful effects of LPG,” she said.

Suntay agreed: “It’s obvious the article was an attack on [Transportation] Secretary Mar Roxas’ decision supporting the conversion of jeepneys to LPG. It’s as simple as this: Has your cook become sick from using LPG?”

The Inquirer series, besides quoting the claims of the complaining cab drivers and automotive experts, also carried interviews with DOH and health experts who said that the stories of drivers falling ill from LPG exposure were mere “theories” in the absence of scientific evidence.

Without proper study, it would be reckless to blame LPG for the respiratory ailments of drivers who are exposed to a variety of other unhealthy conditions, the DOH officials said.

Extensive use

Fregil said she has done a lot of research in LPG conversion for the past eight years, and was convinced about its benefits to the environment.

“Converting cars to run on LPG has been proven to be beneficial to the environment, giving us 90-percent less solid particulate per million (SPM)  and almost 80 to 90-percent less carbon emission that contributes to global warming,” she said.

She said Hong Kong and Korea had mandated all public transport to run on LPG 10 to 15 years ago. The two governments sent resource speakers to talk about their success with LPG at the LPG summit in Manila last August, she said.

Suntay said auto LPG is also extensively used in Japan, the United States, Italy, Hong Kong, China, India, Turkey, United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, Poland and Australia.

“Most, if not all of these countries, have been very strict in their environmental protection laws, but still they encourage LPG use and conversion. In fact, Australia even gives a subsidy for converting to LPG,” he said.

Environmental benefits

Fregil said that the conversion kits, which her company imports from Italy, follow the “highest safety standards” in the world, and are used “without shortcuts.”

“Tartarini is a brand that I carry. Even the Queen of England’s Rolls Royce is fitted with a Tartarini LPG conversion kit for environmental reasons,” she said.

She claims have never experienced any unhappy client complaining about sickness, dry throat and asthma and loss of weight.

Fregil, however, agreed that there would be a problem if an LPG-run car “is not properly maintained.”

Fly-by-night conversions

She also conceded that there are “fly-by-night conversions that cause some leaks”.

“Fumes, even on gasoline-powered cars, can get into the cabin, which would cause dizziness and sometimes nausea, if  not properly maintained. LPG in its pure gas form is odorless and colorless, that’s why we put in an odorizer in order for us to know if there is a leak,” she said.

She explained: “The LPG in the tank is in liquid form. If it leaks from the tank, it will form a froth with similar consistency as what you see in a fire extinguisher. This will not catch fire.”

“LPG [takes on] gas form after the regulator is placed near the intake manifold (for fuel-injected cars) or near the carburetor (for carburetor cars). This is never connected to the aircon duct,” she said.

Lifestyle ailments

Fregil said the ailments of complaining cab drivers may also have to do with fatigue, food  or smoking.

“Imagine what kind of fatigue you experience driving almost 400 kilometers a day. This means that taxi drivers work almost 24 hours, except for taking occasional naps and taking a meal break, so they can maximize their profits. A person who works 24 hours in a day experiences fatigue from lack of sleep and rest,” she said.

“Moreover the ‘not-so-healthy’ kind of food they consume during the day and the smoking, in the case of some drivers, contribute to their unhealthy condition,” she said.

Fregil also asked why the cab drivers interviewed for the report, like Jo Malaki who quit after driving an LPG-converted cab for six years for Suntay’s Basic Taxi, came out publicly with his complaints only now. She said Basic has no record of Malaki complaining about getting sick from LPG.

Fregil also scoffed at taxi driver Alexander de la Rosa’s comment that the government’s plan to convert jeepneys to LPG was ridiculous.

“Has he ridden one of the LPG jeepneys done by David Motors and PAD Inc.? What proof does he have that you have to clean the engine weekly or it will consume more LPG. We do not do that to our vehicles. Why is it that in Hong Kong, where they have minibuses similar to our jeepneys which are powered by LPG, no harmful effects to its drivers and passengers have been reported?” she said.

She said it was not true that the entire TAI Taxi had reconverted to regular gasoline, purportedly because of engine troubles with LPG. TAI Tax is still using LPG-converted vehicles in its fleet, she said.

“You cannot just take the account of the driver irresponsibly saying the entire fleet is reconverting to gas because of engine trouble when this is totally false,” she said.

‘Absurd’

Fregil dismissed as “absurd” operator Noel Bautista’s story about a driver-friend whose taxi supposedly caught fire and whose scalp was blown off after he lit a cigarette, because LPG had leaked inside the cab.

There is no way anyone riding in an LPG-fueled car would not smell a leak, because of the odorizers that are installed, she said.

“Moreover, LPG tanks have a safety feature that when a tremendous amount of leak is detected, the LPG kit shuts off and the car automatically shifts to gasoline,” she said.

She said LPG conversions are made in a proper service shop where the tuning is done through a computer. Designated technicians visit taxi operators’ garages for proper tuning and maintenance, she said.

“No taxi driver is qualified to run the computer program to tune them properly to efficiently run the LPG kit. Therefore, no taxi driver has the credibility to say that LPG ruins the engine of the cars,” Fregil said.

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TAGS: Consumer issues, Health Hazards, LPG Taxis, Motoring
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