Methanol, a low-quality additive in petroleum, has been found to be one of the main causes of hundreds of automobile fires over the past two years. However, loop-holes in legal regulations are leading to ineffective management of the use of the chemical.

Results from an investigation by the Refinery and Petrochemical Technology Research Centre and HCM City University of Technology showed that poor quality fuel, mixed with low-quality additives such as methanol and ethanol, is the chief cause of automobile and motorbike fires. This kind of fuel can lead to petrol leakages caused by damaged fuel lines and high gas pressure.

Dr Le Van Hieu of the Chemical Technique Centre said methanol is officially banned from being added to petroleum because it is a toxic chemical that cancause blindness, unconsciousness and death, as well as environmental pollution.

However, methanol is not listed in technical standards that must be measured or checked during inspections of petroleum quality. He said that authorities did not check methanol levels, and it is a mistake to assume it will not be present in petroleum.

According to Phung Ha, director general of the Viet Nam Chemicals Agency under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, methanol is one of 36 toxic chemicals that needed to be declared under a ministry circular for trading and transportation.

"The circular regulates that methanol trading is only legal when a declaration document is signed between sellers and buyers. This document is valid for a five-year-period, and includes information about volumes, usage purposes, transport dates, delivery dates, and the identity cards of buyers and sellers.

He said that using this information, the agency cantrack trading activities, but the usage of methanol is the responsibility of other agencies. However, no specific agency has been given that responsibility, while imports of the chemical have increased to 80,000 tonnes last year from 52,000 tonnes in 2008.

Dr Nguyen Anh Duc, deputy director of the Viet Nam Petroleum Institute, said with current management practices, petroleum quality is only ensured in the stores of licensed import companies, not at petroleum stations that couldadd methanol to increase profits.

He said they will add a suitable volume of methanol to petroleum that will still meet quality standards in Vietnam.These experts said that the Ministry of Science and Technology should create specific regulations on the use of methanol in petroleum that canserve as a legal basis for inspections.

During the past two years, 324 vehicles have caught fire or exploded throughout the country, 85 percent of which were cars, according to statistics from the Ministry of Public Security's Department of Fire Fighting and Prevention.-VNA