July 1, 2009

Here is a good question to pursue for your Fourth of July weekend coverage: How much propane is really in 20-pound barbecue grill tanks?

The answer may not be 20 pounds, as you might think.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

“Last summer two of the nation’s leading sellers of pre-filled grill tanks — Blue Rhino and AmeriGas — reduced the amount of propane in their tanks from 17 pounds to just 15 pounds. Company officials said the change allowed their tanks’ retail price to remain the same at a time when propane prices had spiked. Although propane prices have dropped significantly, the companies haven’t increased the amount of propane in their tanks.”

The companies slapped a “15-pound” label on the tanks but didn’t change the size of them. It would make sense, then, that most consumers would not have known they were actually getting less fuel.

Last month, a class-action lawsuit was filed against propane tank providers.

The Journal-Constitution said even a “full” tank may not contain the actual 20-pounds of propane:

“A full barbecue tank can contain as much as 19.7 pounds of propane, experts say, though the amount can vary from 17 to 19 pounds depending on variations in the wall thickness of the cylinder, the design of the valve on the tank’s overfill prevention device, naturally occurring impurities in the propane and the temperature, which can cause propane to expand. All grill tanks are equipped with an overfill prevention device to protect against the fire danger posed by adding too much propane.

“Most consumers are unaware that the major tank exchange companies have reduced the propane in their containers, local propane sellers said.

“‘The public just never saw this coming. And who looks at the label of propane tanks to see how many pounds it contains?’ asked Don Martin, whose Roswell-based firm markets a device called the Original Grill Gauge, which helps barbecuers know when their tank is running low.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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