Pittsburgh Company Probing Whether Death Tied to Recall

August 25, 2008

A company that ordered a recall of kerosene that may be contaminated with gasoline is looking into whether its fuel caused a fire that killed an Amish woman in June.

Pittsburgh Terminals Corp., a Coraopolis company that stores heating oil and kerosene for local distributors, issued the recall late Wednesday. The company asked people to return kerosene purchased since May 1 in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and southwestern New York.

Thursday, the company urged the public to spread the word about the recall among the Amish, who use kerosene in stoves and lamps, but may not be aware of the situation because of their limited access to television and radio news.

No state agency appears to be responsible for regulating the safety of kerosene and other home heating fuel, and it was unclear Friday whether such fuel is subject to monitoring and inspection by the federal government.

Several state agencies were also working to inform the Amish about the recall by contacting groups that interact with them, such as volunteer fire companies, midwives and milk tank drivers, said Gary Miller, a spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell.

Tests found that two intermittently malfunctioning valves at a storage facility allowed traces of gasoline to be mixed with the kerosene, said Karen Walsh, who works for a Harrisburg public relations firm hired by the company. The problem was fixed immediately, she said.

“We really have no idea how much contamination occurred over this period,” Walsh said Friday.

The recall was issued after an Erie distributor notified the company that results of tests he had performed on his kerosene suggested that it might contain gasoline, which is more flammable at a lower temperature than kerosene, Walsh said.

Pittsburgh Terminals regularly tests its equipment, and none of its tests before the recall found any problems, she said.

Walsh said she did not know how many gallons of kerosene were distributed during the period covered by the recall.

The company plans to open 16 collection centers in Pennsylvania and West Virginia on Monday to accept returned kerosene, Walsh said.

Walsh said the company is trying to determine whether the tainted kerosene caused a June 21 fire that killed Ada Kurtz of Lackawannock Township, about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Kurtz, 25, died of burns caused by a heater that exploded after she lit it.

Kurtz used fuel from a New Wilmington, Pa., gas station that she thought was kerosene, police said.

The fire was ruled accidental, said police chief Carmen Piccirillo.

“Nobody’s making an allegation of any criminal activity,” Piccirillo told The Herald of Sharon.

The gas station’s owner, Bob Pitzer, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking information on which company supplies kerosene to his facility.


On the Web:

Kerosene recall notice

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