By Atom Markarian
Seeking to stave off a new wave of deadly poisonings this winter, the government approved on Thursday stricter safety regulations for the growing use of natural gas for household heating in Armenia.
The ArmRosgazprom national operator will now be responsible for ensuring the safety of gas installations inside apartment buildings and houses. The government will also ban sales of gas heaters and other appliances deemed faulty or dangerous.
The measures announced by Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian were clearly prompted by the deaths of dozens of people across the country during the last heating season. Virtually all of them were caused by carbon monoxide emissions from homemade heaters used by low-income families.
The rising death toll -- sixteen people were reportedly killed in December alone -- led President Robert Kocharian to order urgent government measures. The government’s the Emergencies Department imposed on December 28 a complete ban on homemade heating stoves widely blamed for the poisonings. However, the measures proved largely ineffectual.
ArmRosgazprom until recently denied responsibility for the fatalities, saying that it is only guaranteeing the security of gas pipes outside buildings. However, Armenia’s Public Service Regulatory Commission ruled last month that the Russian-Armenian joint venture must take care of the inner-building installations as well.
Galstian told reporters that a government agency will now be tasked with making sure that the gas operator complies with the new requirement. He said the government will also introduce a mandatory licensing and certification of all gas appliances. “Only those appliances that are certified and manufactured by credible companies can be used without any restrictions,” he added.
Many consumers use Iranian or Turkish heaters that typically cost between $80 and $150 apiece. But they are too for many other Armenians, especially those living in rural areas. Hence, the widespread use of much cheaper homemade stoves.
Galstian warned that households refusing to have government-approved heating devices will be cut off from gas supplies. “Your agreement [with ArmRosgazprom] will be terminated and you won’t get any gas,” he said.
Centralized gas supplies in Armenia were disrupted shortly after the Soviet collapse and began to be restored in 1997. The process gained momentum in 2002, with ArmRosgazprom currently boasting 250,000 subscribers as of last December.