The Poor Mans Fuel, The Continued use of Paraffin for Domestic

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The Poor Mans Fuel, The Continued use of Paraffin for Domestic Powered By Docstoc
G. Truran
The Paraffin Safety Association. Website:

Paraffin is the most popular, purchased fuel of choice among low income households in South Africa. The combined impact of a lack of safety measures in the supply and use of paraffin (and paraffin appliances) together with socio-economic realities conspire to generate unacceptably high levels of harmful human, financial and economic consequences. These consequences are most devastating for victims and survivors, at a family and community level but the consequences are felt throughout the local economy. They include, but are not limited to: ! Loss of property and opportunity ! Trauma, injury and loss of life ! A burden on government services and resources This paper describes how paraffin is used and the potential cause and effect relationships that lead to harmful incidences. Lessons from pilot interventions will also be briefly outlined. Counter measures to these relationships will be considered in the light of prevailing conditions as will alternatives to using paraffin. The Paraffin Safety Association believes that these harmful incidents are avoidable yet the most significant interventions are beyond the sphere of influence of paraffin consumers. An argument will be made for viable solutions on a national scale in terms of: ! Error-proofing the fuel and the appliances ! Incorporating energy safety and understanding into curricula for schools, caregivers and relevant trainers ! Collaboration with all tiers of government, and ! Legislation underpinning the above Finally, a forecast will be made about future energy consumption patterns.

The intention of this paper is to present a simple argument about how paraffin related harmful incidents can be avoided. It will highlight the fact that the most vulnerable of our society are most at risk, especially young children and the elderly. It will argue that the majority of prevention should be taken outside the home, within spheres of influence controlled by government and business interests. It is designed to be useful for decision makers, for people in the field and to promote household safety in general. It is hoped that it will increase the profile of paraffin safety on the environmental health agenda and invite political will to legislate and enforce requisite safety standards.

Put simply, domestic paraffin is a hydrocarbon. It is known as illuminating paraffin or kerosene (“IP” or “kero”) in the trade (commonwealth countries tend to use “paraffin”, Canada and USA use “kerosene”). In South Africa it is made at one of 6 refineries by refining crude oil, or synthetically from natural gas or coal. Roughly 800 million litres are manufactured and sold each year (see the SAPIA website for more detail, Hydrocarbons have different boiling points (visit for an excellent explanation). This allows them to be separated during refinery distillation. Paraffin is very similar to jet fuel in chemical composition. It is sold in bulk liquid format usually from storage tanks or 200 litre drums.

Proceedings: 8th World Congress on Environmental Health; Produced by: Document Transformation Technologies Organised by SB Conferences

22 – 27 February 2004 Durban, South Africa ISBN: 0-9584663-7-8

Paraffin is primarily sold to the end user (consumer) by retailers such as petrol filling stations, general dealers, corner shops, public wholesalers and “spaza” shops. The price of paraffin is regulated by government but it is not strictly enforced, especially in informal market settings. Some people buy paraffin using, for example, 25 litre containers from which they decant and sell on paraffin to their neighbours. There is a very complicated, unregulated and diverse supply chain between oil company depots and the consumer. With more and more intermediaries in the supply chain, already thin profit margins diminish even further (or the price goes up) because of the diminishing volumes and the fact that there are more people selling it on who want to add their profit to their purchase price. This has serious implications for safety (and the end price for the consumer) which is considered unnecessary by people who are not trained in the hazardousness of the substance. The customer is expected to provide the packaging (a container) at the point of sale. This usually ends up being a home plastic cooldrink bottle (the Coca Cola non refundable PET 2 litre bottle is probably the most popular option) or a recycled 2 litre plastic milk bottle (often without the use of a lid). Paraffin looks just like water at the point of purchase and when it is stored at home (although it has a very distinct smell). Because it is often stored in the same containers that are used for other liquids such as water and cooldrink, it is often mistaken as a beverage. Very young children, who put anything in their mouths, often reach these containers when they are stored on the ground or under tables. Paraffin is highly toxic. It is made up of a number of chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment. These include small traces of benzene and sulphur. Paraffin also has a very low viscosity. This means it is very runny or fluid and it spreads easily like water. Honey, by contrast, has a high viscosity, it is sticky and gluey. The combination of low viscosity and high toxicity make paraffin potentially lethal if ingested (swallowed) as it has the opportunity of spreading into the lungs. If a child ingests paraffin it will pass down the throat and into the stomach. A small amount of paraffin in the stomach is not life threatening although it will make the child feel very ill. There is, however, the risk that in the process paraffin will be aspirated or inhaled into the lungs because of paraffin’s low viscosity. There is further risk if the child vomits after swallowing paraffin, some of it could be forced past the epiglottis into the lungs. If sufficient paraffin enters the lungs, chemical pneumonitis can occur. This can lead to secondary infection and hence pneumonia. Both pneumonitis and pneumonia can prove fatal in a short space of time, especially in young children. Paraffin has a minimum flashpoint of 43 degrees Celsius at atmospheric pressure. The flashpoint is the temperature at which vapour from a liquid can be ignited (The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service website explains fire and flashpoints in a simple way. See This means, for example, that a paraffin light or stove wick will only ignite once the paraffin that it is soaked in is at a temperature of 43 degrees Celsius or higher (depending on the prevailing atmospheric pressure and the specific chemical composition of the batch of paraffin). By contrast, diesel has a higher flashpoint and petrol has a flashpoint somewhere between minus 18 degrees Celsius and minus 43 degrees Celsius. The fact that paraffin ignites at temperatures above 43 degrees Celsius should make it relatively safe. It does not ignite as easily as petrol for example. Unfortunately, this is not the case for a number of reasons: ! Some people use other fuels such as methylated spirits to improve the flammability of paraffin. Indeed, certain pressure stoves (such as the primus pressure stove) recommend using methylated spirits for ignition purposes. ! Secondly, the fact that paraffin is transported and sold in an unpackaged or bulk format, means that there are a number of opportunities for contamination with dirt, rust and other liquids such as petrol. If paraffin is mixed with petrol, even a small amount, its flashpoint is lowered considerably and this can result in paraffin appliances exploding while in use. ! Finally, if a paraffin stove and its reservoir (storage tank /area) heats up to a temperature above the flashpoint temperature, the paraffin in the reservoir will also be above the flashpoint. All you need is a little oxygen (O2) and you have the three necessary ingredients for ignition and fire – heat, fuel and Oxygen. There are many cases where burn victims report that their stove exploded (it probably erupted into flames in most of these cases). If a faulty stove leaks and the paraffin in it’s reservoir is heated above 43 degrees Celsius, the fact that paraffin has such low viscosity comes into play. It will be more prone to leak than more viscous liquids and, in the event of a fire, will spread more easily, increasing the surface area for ignition and combustion. When you take into consideration the home environment in which people utilize paraffin (cramped, informal living quarters made of highly combustible and toxic material such as treated or painted wood and plastics) the dangers become more apparent. Simply having naked flames in these environments, no matter which fuel is utilised, makes these environments highly unsuitable for the storage and use of paraffin.

Paraffin is also dangerous from an indoor air pollution perspective. Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of combustion. In addition, inefficient flames will result in chemicals within paraffin being given off as smoke which is effectively toxic. Camping stove research by William Kemsley & the editors of Backpacker Magazine (1978) has shown that proximity of a flame to the pot can also generate additional volumes of carbon monoxide. If the room in which the appliance is burning is well ventilated, the effects of this pollution can be minimized. However, in low income dwelling situations, the stove often doubles as a heater and room ventilation is minimised to keep out the cold, damp and wind. In these sort of situations, the carbon monoxide alone can at best, cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches (symptoms similar to altitude sickness) and at worst, death. It can therefore be seen that although paraffin is convenient and affordable it is a highly hazardous

It is estimated by Paraffin Safety Association that between 40 and 50% of South African households use paraffin for some part of their domestic energy requirements. These are low income households (both rural and urban) living either in informal dwellings or small houses. This is probably in the region of 9 million households. Some of these households do have electricity but use it only for lighting and prefer to cook with paraffin (It is of concern that the design of RDP housing, which is geared toward use of electricity, is not designed the use of paraffin stoves in spite of this reality). Roughly half of these families use paraffin as their primary source of cooking, heating or lighting; cooking being the most significant (wax candles are very popular for lighting). Paraffin consumption soars during the colder winter months suggesting that heating accounts for the different consumption pattern.

Paraffin is relatively cheap as compared to other energy options. It also has very low setup costs. The cheapest stove is between R15 and R20 (roughly US$ 2.15 to US$ 2.85) although these may only last for as little as 3 months (this estimate of 3 months is based on feedback from adult burn victims at Tygerberg Hospital according to Dr Albie van der Merwe). Paraffin is a convenient energy solution: ! It is readily available at retail points close to transport links, home, work or other key locations. ! You can buy one litre of paraffin at a time if you wish. At present, Paraffin costs approximately R2.40 per litre (roughly US$ 0.34, see and you can use any container you like to go and buy it in. You can buy only what you need or can afford. ! You can borrow it in easily negotiable quantities (a cup full). ! You can carry it with your groceries in public transport. ! When you extinguish your appliance flame, the unused paraffin is available for your next usage. ! Appliances are relatively small and portable – an advantage in small or temporary living quarters. ! You can easily monitor and control how much you use. ! It is relatively clean, it generates less smoke than coal and wood in poorly ventilated households. Sustainable Energy Africa has produced and excellent book called “The Energy Book” (Sarah Ward, 2003). It is an excellent resource for understanding household energy choices and issues. It is a recommended reference to develop a deeper understanding of these issues. In short paraffin is preferred over other fuels because of its affordability (both ongoing and initial financial outlay), availability, versatility and relative cleanliness.

The dangers of using paraffin in a domestic setting have already been alluded to in the section “Domestic Paraffin in South Africa: What is it?” There are three main categories of danger: ! Poisoning by means of ingestion of paraffin ! Poisoning by means of indoor air pollution from combustion of paraffin, and ! Fire incidents causing loss of opportunity, property, severe burns, poisoning through inhalations of toxic fumes and loss of life. The consequences of these incidents can be devastating on individual consumers and their families.

In incidents where there is loss of life, it obvious that such situations cause significant trauma for loves ones. Beside personal grief these, situations inevitably include other losses. There is disruption and time taken away from economic and other important activity and other individual objectives. There are inevitable additional economic costs from visits to hospitals, funeral arrangements and so on which add to the existing burdens that most households already experience. There is the psychological trauma, the potential blaming and guilt, all of which has a price and toll on individual reserves. If a person has died after a considerable period of time in hospital as opposed to close to the incident itself, these expenses and other consequences would be prolonged. In incidents of poisoning by ingestion, loss of life happens in a small number of cases. In the rest, there would be a continuum between those who were ill due to paraffin passing through the digestive system through to those who did contract chemical pneumonitis or pneumonia as a result of paraffin entering the lungs. The long term symptoms of these conditions can be shortness of breath (hypoxia) and persistent lung damage. These conditions can put the individuals at a disadvantage (for example a child experiencing high absenteeism form school as result persistent lung infections) which may have social and financial consequences. Poor nutrition, especially among infants (who are most susceptible to this injury) may exacerbate the impact on the lungs. The key issue with poisoning by ingestion is the fact that it is an alarmingly common occurrence. Furthermore, many people give children oily substances (such as milk or fish oil) and try to induce vomiting which complicates the situation and places the child at greater risk. Unfortunately hospital and emergency services incident surveillance systems run by the department of health are, according to Carolissen and Matzopoulos, designed for the resource allocation of curative services and not for the purposes of primary prevention (Carolissen, G and Matzopoulos, R; A Review of Paraffin ingestion and burns and Interventions for Paraffin-related Injury Reduction, p. 13, 2003, unpublished). This, together with unreported incidences, makes it very difficult to produce statistics with a high resolution on the matter. In spite of these difficulties, the Paraffin Safety Association estimates that there are between 60 000 and 80 000 cases a year where children accidentally drink paraffin. This is based on a combination of sources including 4 Markinor omnibus national surveys in recent years (the last being in October 2003, unpublished) in which people were asked, if they used paraffin; “Have any children in your household accidentally drunk paraffin in the last 12 months?” Furthermore, an estimated tenth of these cases result in pneumonia. Fires have the most devastating overall impact. While writing this paper another devastating fire was announced over the radio that occurred last night in Mandela Park, Cape Town, destroying approximately 1,000 dwellings. Characteristics of most press releases and emergency service statements about shack-fires, “the cause is unknown” (SAFM, 8 February 2004). In the Western Cape, emergency services have reported that the 58% of all fires have an unknown cause. This is a shocking situation, given the high incidence of fires that destroy dwellings. Action should be taken immediately to improve this situation so that constructive planning and action can be taken to minimise incidents. Paraffin Safety Association research indicates that most informal settlement fires are paraffin related. They are rivalled only by candle related incidents. If a flame related to a paraffin appliance was not the start of the larger, uncontrolled fire, then paraffin stored in the home was certainly a key part of the fuel that assisted the fire in its development. Remember our contention that most informal housing dwellers use paraffin. The Paraffin Safety Association estimates that between 40,000 and 80,000 households experience paraffin related fires a year and roughly 43% of these households experience 2 or more fires a year (Markinor omnibus surveys, January 2004, unpublished). When a fire occurs in a community, more than one home is invariably affected because of high winds and the fact that low income households tend to be built very close to one another. For people without security of tenure and without insurance, this is highly devastating. They often lose everything they have except the clothes that they were wearing at the time. Fear of victimisation for causing a fire in such circumstances is intense. There is often and interruption in economic and other activity for families and the cost of rebuilding their lives from scratch. Again, there is a burden on state resources (emergency services, health services, welfare services) which has an indirect impact on the economy and an avoidable burden to tax payers. Very often fires are accompanied by burn and smoke inhalation injuries. Burns are the leading cause of non-natural deaths in 0-4 year olds and 5-9 year olds (Gun Control Alliance website, 8 February 2004, ). Severely burnt children, as a special case, experience severe trauma. If, for example, a child has a badly burnt head, he or she would have to undergo regular reconstructive surgery involving skin grafts. There would not only be a need to reconstruct destroyed features and parts such as ears, nose and lips, there would be the added problem that the scar tissue does not continue to grow yet the skull and internal organs will keep growing. Many burn survivors have also lost limbs or digits. Besides having to deal with the fact that badly burnt skin will lose its skin-like properties, such as temperature regulation, severe trauma is experienced over the disfigurement and acceptance back into society. The suicide rate among these individuals is exceptionally high.

Problem Analysis Assumptions: Domestic Paraffin usage is hazardous

There is a subset of burns that do not always accompany fires. Many children experience severe burns obtained from hot liquids (or food) that were being cooked. The flimsy design of paraffin stoves (together with using pots that are too large for the appliance) is something that we believe contributes significantly to these sorts or injuries. Indoor Air Pollution as a result of paraffin combustion has not enjoyed the same attention as have fires and poisoning by ingestion although indoor air pollution is a major cause for concern, especially in informal housing in cold winter weather. Inefficient burning results in toxic chemicals within paraffin being discharged into the air and combustion itself results in production of carbon monoxide. If these are concentrated in a poorly ventilated home, they are bound impact, to some extent on the respiratory wellness of the inhabitants. Given the fact that an estimated 9 million South African homes use paraffin for energy, the scope of this problem is vast.

In order to address the problems related to the use of paraffin as domestic energy, the following cause and effect diagram has been developed by the Paraffin Safety Association (figure 1 above). The cause and effect relationships have been described under headings that help to order understanding about the problem. Careful study of this diagram suggests that the dangers are as a result of a combination of variables which interact with each other. This begins to inform which variables are “controllable” in order to reduce the potential for harm. This idea will be developed further under “counter measures”. The problems can be summarised as: 1. Manufactured paraffin is flammable, toxic and has a low viscosity – it is therefore dangerous if not handled according to safety guidelines. It is manufactured for combustion (in order to generate energy) which, by definition, requires the application of a naked flame. 2. Paraffin is distributed through a complicated and unregulated supply chain. It is distributed in bulk (unpackaged) and as such is susceptible to contamination. Risk increases with every additional link in the supply chain. Safety is therefore compromised. 3. Paraffin is sold to the public in whatever container the public brings to the point of sale. There is little understanding (or transference) of safety knowledge at the point of sale. There is no packaging and hence no “safety warning labels”. 4. It is also a travesty that children are most commonly sent to purchase paraffin. The statistics reveal that they are the most likely victims of harmful paraffin related incidents and should not be left unattended. 5. Paraffin appliances are probably the single most significant cause for concern. Although standards exist, there is no mandatory compliance with these standards for paraffin-stove manufacturers (see the stove reports on the Paraffin Safety Association website – The voluntary stoves standards are the SABS 1243: 1979 for “Pressure stoves and blow lamps” and SABS 1906 draft specification for “Safety of non-pressure stoves and heaters”, as at May 2002. Currently, manufacturers of paraffin stoves may use their discretion as to which of the recommended features they choose to incorporate. PASASA commissioned Test House, a SABS affiliated company, to test nine of the most commonly used stoves. The results of the tests give cause for great concern. It is a matter of public health and safety that these findings, which have been presented to SABS, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Minerals and Energy, result in a compulsory standard to ensure consumer safety. In summary: a. All nine stoves tested failed the current SABS standards; b. All the stoves failed an average of six or more of the SABS codes; c. The most commonly used paraffin stoves, non-pressure or wick stoves, failed all the key safety tests including fuel container, fuel temperature, combustion, marking and instructions; and d. PASASA added an additional test to the SABS standards "After operating the stove for 1 hour, knock it over, while it is in operation and note the consequences". Again, the most commonly used paraffin stoves, non-pressure or wick stoves, all immediately erupted in flames when knocked over. 6. Homes are the point of consumption and the point of combustion (where the naked flame occurs). From a safety analysis point of view, there are a number of potential causes for harm (overcrowding, curtains near cooking flames, uneven surfaces, storage of paraffin near flames and / or within reach of children, flammable building materials, poor ventilation, and many more) and hence this is a high risk area. A home is a dangerous place, especially for children. An informal housing home is even more dangerous with no building regulations and houses being built right next to each other without firebreaks. 7. The consumers of paraffin are primarily of a low socio-economic status, characterised by low levels of literacy and general education. Most consumers are unaware of the dangers of Paraffin. The added complications of fatigue, alcoholism and poor ventilation (and possibly carbon monoxide poisoning) result in low levels of alertness. Children are often left unattended (or attended by other children) for various reasons (if you are a parent you will

understand how easy this is) - mostly out of economic necessity. We also know that child-headed households are on the increase. In this environment, there is a very poor home safety awareness and practise. Just as safe sex has been communicated, communicating paraffin safety is not necessarily going to lead to safer practise as far as paraffin usage is concerned.

The term counter measure has been used instead of “solution” because any action taken to influence variables will set up a new dynamic which may have its own inherent set of problems. Whilst taking into account this reality, the Paraffin Safety Association has identified key counter measures which will drastically reduce the number of harmful incidents within a relatively short space of time.

All domestic paraffin should be sold prepacked. It is essential that such packaging be introduced industry wide. Although setup costs will be large, this could possibly be resolved through a subsidy or levy. It must also be noted that if, for example, only one oil company introduces safe packaging and passes this cost on to the consumer in an environment where cheaper bulk based paraffin is sold, it will not win significant market share. This is because price is and order qualifier for paraffin. An order qualifier is a condition that a supplier must meet before their product will even be considered for purchase. If, however, a deposit system is used industry wide, and the packaging is regarded as an asset belonging to the company (where the deposit is redeemable upon return of the packaging), then the convenience and safety features of the packaging would become an order winner, provided the price per litre of the actual paraffin is the same as that which can be purchased in bulk. An order winner is a product feature that separates two suppliers who both “qualify” for the order or sale, in other words, who are both considered suitable suppliers. A deposit system is also recommended (similar to that used by Coca Cola for their deposit-based product). This will drastically reduce the cost of packaging and simultaneously be a more environmentally friendly option. Paraffin should be packed close to the source of manufacture (refinery or oil company depot) where the volumes would justify packing equipment that minimises recycling costs and ensures that paraffin travels tamper proof from the oil company to the consumer. The packaging must: ! Have a child resistant cap (CRC) – a cap that unattended children cannot open ! Have a tamper proof seal on the cap ! Must have a suitable, non-spill pouring mechanism that will prevent consumers from using makeshift funnels such as drinking cups ! Must protect the paraffin from the sun (paraffin left in the sun tends to yellow and appear “contaminated”) ! Must have a clearly marked safety and warning label in a font suitable for poor eyesight and with illustrations that are meaningful for customers who cannot read. This must include emergency numbers and advice in cases of ingestion, contact with skin and eyes. ! Be sturdy and durable to suite transport and domestic needs, but be unsuitable for beverage applications in the home (the deposit price may need to be an incentive for consumers not to remove packaging from the system for other beverage related domestic uses). Although more research needs to be done, a metal container may be more suitable because it will be more durable in the case of a fire and is not as flammable and toxic as burning plastic.

Safer affordable stoves
Removing unsafe stoves from the market is the single most significant counter measure to harmful incidents. It is imperative that government outlaws unsafe, substandard stoves as a matter of urgency. This is not negotiable. Again, evidence from a recent Markinor survey (unpublished, October 2003) suggests that the majority of burn injury incidents in the last year appear to have resulted from paraffin stoves exploding (52%) and paraffin stoves being knocked over (42%) making a total of 94% of the incidents. The other options open to respondents were; “Direct contact with a paraffin stove”, “boiling water in a pot on a paraffin stove”, “paraffin light”, paraffin heater”, “don’t know” and “Other, please specify”. Most of the remaining cases were reported to be caused by a paraffin light. In the same survey, among those surveyed who claimed to use paraffin (an estimated 43% of total households), 2% said they have had paraffin related fires in their homes in the past 12 months. This is an estimated 83,000 households reporting one (79%) or more (21%) fires in the past 12 months. When averaged out to a monthly figure, this is nearly 7,000 fires a month. Even if this estimate is twice as high as it should be, which is highly unlikely, and there were only an average of 3,500 fires a month, of which 3,290 of these incidents are as a direct result of inferior paraffin stoves (94% of the incidents), then this would remain a totally untenable situation.

The cost to victims and to state outweighs any arguments about how difficult it would be to introduce safe yet affordable alternatives. These stoves are a travesty against the rights of users, and a stumbling block to poverty eradication. Secondly, the government must, when enforcing paraffin stove standards, improve the specifications of their existing voluntary stove standards. Third, it must become a legal requirement for all paraffin stoves to be fitted with a self-extinguishing device, which will immediately extinguish the flame should a stove be accidentally knocked over. Fourth, incentives and support could be provided to entrepreneurs who are able to demonstrate that they can produce safer yet affordable alternatives and grow their market share with these alternatives. Finally, a scheme should be devised to remove unsafe stoves from the market as a matter of urgency. An example of such a scheme, although there may be more suitable options, is some sort of lottery-like draw for persons who hand in their old stoves when they purchase new ones. It is impossible to determine how many stoves are currently in use or sold in South Africa every year. There are no statistics available. In order to get an idea of the scope of this issue, an estimate can be developed on the following basis: ! There are roughly 45,000,000 people in South Africa ! There are roughly 5 people in each household ! There are therefore roughly 9 million households ! Just under half of the households in South Africa use paraffin for energy requirements, usually cooking. Therefore there are roughly 4 million stoves in use. Because of the poor quality of the majority of stoves available, an estimated lifespan for a stove is about a year and a half, and an estimated 1 to 2 million stoves are sold in South Africa each year.

Incorporating energy safety into relevant curricula
Education or more accurately, awareness has a limited influence on behaviour patterns. The fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa bears testimony to this. However, after experiencing first hand or witnessing the harmful incidents experienced by neighbours, together with safety awareness and education regarding paraffin is likely to have a further reaching impact. The objective then of this counter measure is twofold: ! To ensure that paraffin safety knowledge becomes accessible to all paraffin users, and in turn ! To ensure this safety information becomes the tacit knowledge (knowledge that is internalised and understood, as opposed to just obeying instructions) of all consumers and their caregivers so that they are able to act independently of any “expert” upon their tacit knowledge to safeguard themselves and their loved ones (and their neighbours by extension). Paraffin safety (or more broadly, information on all household safety and energy choices) information should become a mandatory component in all key curricula within South Africa. If you, the reader, are not a medical professional and you do not know what to do if (for example) a child swallows benzene, then you are not empowered to act independently. This applies particularly to school curricula (this material lends itself particularly well to a holistic methodology), caregiver curricula (nurses, community health workers, home-based caregivers, social workers, occupational therapists, emergency services and community safety officers) and to curricula for the training of the trainers of caregivers. The Paraffin Safety Association is developing comprehensive materials and teaching aids for this purpose. There is already significant basic information (although not in an education oriented format) posted on our website:

Collaboration with all tiers of government and legislation
Tackling paraffin safety requires the collaboration of all tiers of government. They are essential for introducing safe packaging, safe appliances and spreading safety messaging on the required scale.

Good swift legislation will underpin all the counter measures that have been proposed: ! The department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is responsible for regulating standards on the manufacture of goods. They are being called upon to play a leading role in the elimination of unsafe stoves. ! The department of Minerals and Energy (DME) is responsible for the regulation of energy. They are being called upon to support the elimination of unsafe stoves and to ensure that all domestic paraffin is supplied in safe packaging at an affordable price ! The department of Education is responsible for educating citizens for life and economic participation ! The Treasury is responsible for the regulation of energy subsidies and related taxation policies which may impact on paraffin safety and address the burden that the status quo places on the fiscus. ! The Department of Health is responsible for health education, prevention, treatment and surveillance. ! Local government is responsible for emergency services, prevention planning and promulgating by-laws that could have a positive impact on paraffin safety within their city limits.

Alternative fuels
It would seem logical that the easiest way to promote paraffin safety would be to reduce its usage buy encouraging switching to alternative energies. Unfortunately, no alternative seems to match the needs of significant numbers of the lowest income households in South Africa as well as paraffin. That is, without significant government intervention and political will. Here are some of the options; ! Although electricity is relatively cheap in South Africa, low income households that have electricity, have in some cases, elected to cook with paraffin and use electricity only when there is money for it or only for lighting. Although payment is a problem for low income households who live from day to day, demand far outstrips supply, especially in transient informal settlements. ! Hot boxes (home made insulation boxes designed for slow cooking pre-heated food), still require some form of initial heating. However, this does not detract from their relative importance as an appropriate technology for meeting energy needs (and their potential for reducing consumption). ! Solar based options are either unheard of, considered to have set up costs that are too high or are threatened by theft. In many typical communities, you cannot leave a solar cooker outside your home with a pot and food in it and expect it to be there on your return. ! Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a preferred option punted by the Department of Minerals and Energy. This option is expensive (relatively), has high setup costs and requires that specific, relatively large quantities of fuel are purchased at a given point in time. The equipment is also less portable than paraffin appliances. Many people also fear gas more than they do paraffin because they consider it to be dangerous. This is in spite of the fact that many more harmful paraffin related incidents occur than harmful gas related harmful incidents. It is probably because the gas incidents are more spectacular, similar to the comparison of the incident rates between road transport and air transport. ! The most promising option, in the opinion of this author, is ethanol based gel for cooking and heating. This option is highly attractive because it is much safer yet can be used with cheap appliances for cooking. The price of the fuel is still a little high and availability is still questionable but this may change as volumes pick up with demand. This option is much safer because it has high viscosity and it is not toxic. This limits the spread of risk in the case of an accident such as a stove knocking over. Only the surface area of the fuel burns (which is limited by the high viscosity). It is easier to extinguish – you can simply blow it out. Although it would still have to be kept out of reach of children, it does hold the same risk of mistaken ingestion as paraffin. The Paraffin Safety Association has tested the Zimbabwe version of this fuel called “Genius Stove Fuel” manufactured by Eco Heat. It is green, is almost a viscous as jelly and contains bitrix (aloe extract used to prevent people from biting their nails). It comes in 1 litre thick plastic sachets with a product and safety message. It is highly portable in the sachet packaging. If only half the sachet is used, a clothes peg can be used to seal the sachet for future use. Not much is known about it but it does appear to be a much cleaner burning fuel as compared to paraffin. Most significant is the fact that it is a renewable energy source. It is made from plant matter (sugar cane in Zimbabwe’s case). The possible negative side to this fuel source is that it is even more difficult to ignite than paraffin and goes out very easily in a strong draft. This may render it unsuitable for windy coastal locations unless the design on the stove is significantly improved.

The Paraffin Safety Association has been involved in a range of pilot interventions in order to promote paraffin safety and paraffin safety strategies.

These include: ! Production child resistant caps (caps that children cannot open) for containers that are used by consumers for purchasing and storing paraffin (two sizes) ! Promoting the use of purple paraffin funnels for exclusive use of decanting paraffin (to try and eliminate the use of receptacles like drinking cups. ! Production and promotion of the use of 1 litre, 2 litre and 5 litre bottles on a deposit system at selected outlets called Independent Safe Sites – sites from where safe-packaged paraffin is sold by means of a package deposit system. Similarly, the Paraffin Safety Association has also been involved with the Department of Minerals and Energy rural Integrated Energy Centres, which act as one-stop energy shops. The volumes of safe-packaged paraffin sold have been very small but sufficient in order to learn a number of crucial lessons ! Running paraffin safety awareness workshops at schools, clinics, hospitals and community centres in conjunction with all the other initiatives and on a specific request basis. These lessons are summarised below. Understand the basic economics of a free market system and operate within those constraints. Because of the costs, volumes and margins involved, a switch to safe packaging solution will only occur under certain conditions, which include: ! Government intervention in the form of legislation and possibly incentives ! Significant capital investment in packaging and packing technology ! Adoption of a safe packaging deposit system where the packing remains an asset belonging to respective oil companies ! Oil Companies identifying safe packaging as a necessary criteria for increasing paraffin market share A similar concept will thus apply with the stove manufacturers. They will not improve the safety specifications of their appliances unless: ! Government intervenes with legislation and possibly other incentives or disincentives ! It became a prerequisite to retaining or growing market share ! It remains possible to make a profit Safety awareness by means of isolated workshops has a minimal relative impact. The Paraffin Safety Association has decided to shift its strategy from running safety awareness workshops and promotions to a “train the trainer” approach. This involves shifting from sending out Paraffin Safety Association trainers to acting as a resource in terms of educational materials and training trainers. This shifts the onus of safety awareness to other institutions that are in a position to train and promote safety. Government takes a very long time to respond to calls for action in spite of the apparent impact the action or inaction has on its citizens. Finding ways of constructively mobilising government into action will have to become a Paraffin Safety Association competency. Although the idea of collaboration with non-governmental partners sounds fundamental and is being actively explored, no obvious, nationwide networks have yet surfaced that match the objectives of paraffin safety on a national scale. The Paraffin Safety Association would welcome insights into how to leverage non-governmental collaboration.

Because of shifting demographics (ever widening gap between the rich and poor) and the lack of political will to address paraffin related fires. It is unlikely that paraffin consumption will decrease significantly in the medium to long term and that the number of harmful incidents will decrease significantly in the short term. The Paraffin Safety Association hopes that this second prediction will be unfounded but evidence to date suggests that progress around key counter measures will be laboriously slow. Within the next twenty years, there will be an increase in alternative energy usage at the household level. More electricity will be available but it is highly likely that the trend of mixing energy types in home will grow. Ongoing housing subsidies may improve insulation and therefore reduce energy demands, especially in winter. There will be more use of solar energy, LPG and of ethanol based fuels among the poorest sector of our society but paraffin will remain the most popular poor man’s fuel. It is hoped that over this period safer practices will become adopted and safer appliances and safer paraffin fuel will become available, resulting in a drastic reduction in incidence of harmful paraffin related incidents.

As long as there is a lack of security of tenure as is the case in informal settlements, investment in portable solutions will be favoured over more permanent options. Paraffin may even increase in popularity as a fuel of choice.

[1] SAPIA Website 8 February 2004. The official website for the South African Petroleum Industries Association. [2] The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service website explains fire and flashpoints in an excellent and simple way. See [3] Article taken from Backpacking Equipment Buyer's Guide by William Kemsley and the editors of Backpacker Magazine. Copyright © 1978 by Backpacker, Inc Reproduced courtesy of Backpacker Magazine on the Classic Camp Stove. Website: (8 February 2004) [4] Burn statistics sourced from the Gun Control Alliance website, 8 February 2004. [5] Shell Southern Africa Website, fuel price link accessed on 6 February 2004. This page provides monthly fuel prices. [6] Paraffin Safety Association Website, Detailed Safety Messages link on 6 February 2004. This page provides detailed safety messages relating to the use of Paraffin in the home. A shorter version of basic message can be found at [7] The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service website explains fire and flashpoints in an excellent and simple way. See [8] Ward, Sarah. The Energy Book (2003). See the Sustainable Energy Africa. Website: , for more detail and to order.

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Description: The Poor Mans Fuel, The Continued use of Paraffin for Domestic