Gas tank graveyard puts Mexico City residents up in arms


An aerial view of the former 18 de Marzo refinery in Mexico City where thousands of disused gas cylinders are stored

MEXICO CITY — Thousands of disused gas cylinders sit outside in the sunshine of an old Mexico City refinery, producing a foul smell that neighbors say has made their lives a nightmare.

Almost every night, Cesar Rivera and his wife leave their apartment because the smell is getting too strong, the 37-year-old web programmer told AFP.

“The smell is so strong at night – so unbearable – that it’s as if the stove wasn’t put out properly,” he said.

The couple are also concerned that the liquefied petroleum gas leaking from the cylinders – which are used by many households in Mexico City – could cause an explosion or make them sick.

“The building administration has asked us not to smoke or use the stove burners when the smell is stronger. It has completely changed our lives,” Rivera said.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” he added.

Aerial images taken by AFP show what looks like a huge cemetery in the west of the capital, surrounded by residential areas.

But instead of human remains, the disused refinery of state-owned oil giant Pemex has become the resting place of thousands of old, multicolored gas canisters.

Rivera said he and his wife had suffered from the smell for eight months, but only found out in January what the source was.

– ‘Vomiting, headaches –

LPG, which is made up mainly of butane and propane, is odorless, so producers add mercaptan to it to give it a foul odor that makes it detectable.

Although “the gases produced by its combustion are neither toxic nor carcinogenic”, a leak can cause an accumulation which “can be explosive and suffocate people in small spaces”, indicates the Mexican National Commission for the efficient use of the gas. energy on its website.

The tanks were stored in the old refinery by the state-owned Gas Bienestar, created in 2021 to develop competition in the sector, after having exchanged old or damaged bottles for new ones free of charge.

In January, authorities in Mexico City said in a statement that Pemex was in the process of withdrawing them.

Contacted by AFP, the company said it was unable to give an interview on this subject.

Mexican civil protection authorities did not respond to a request for information on the risks posed by the cylinders.

According to Ricardo Torres, an expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, LP contributes to the formation of ozone, which at ground level is a harmful pollutant for people and the environment.

Firefighters at a nearby station said they receive daily reports of gas leaks, when in fact the smell is coming from disused tanks.

“We went to the old refinery, but they don’t see us,” says station manager Cesar Suarez.

Juan Macias, who runs a carpentry shop next to the old refinery, said he now closes the windows in the afternoon despite the sweltering heat.

“We feel like throwing up and have really bad headaches,” he said.

“Authorities say there is no cause for concern,” the 44-year-old added.

“But everyone here thinks there’s a danger, so we’re always careful not to light anything when it smells really bad for fear of an explosion,” he said.


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