Hearing will address equipment that caused deadly Silver Spring apartment explosion

Making adjustments to a commonly used piece of equipment that led to a fatal gas explosion in Montgomery County, Maryland, is easier said than done.

And an upcoming hearing on proposed legislation Tuesday may help advance the effort.

The National Transportation and Safety board concluded that a defective indoor mercury service regulator was the probable cause in the 2016 explosion that killed seven people, including two children, at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring.

“One of the very frustrating things that we have since then learned about this deadly accident is that it was entirely preventable,” said Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker, who sponsored the bill.

Many of the devices are inside buildings constructed before the 1960s, and Hucker said at a Monday briefing that he has been told by Washington Gas that records from that time are so old, it’s unclear where every device may be in use.

There may be limited access to mercury service regulators housed in interior boiler rooms, too.

“The county housing department does not keep track of where these are either or have any meaningful records,” Hucker said. “The bill will help by requiring landlords to schedule the immediate replacement of indoor mercury service regulators that regulate the flow of natural gas into the home and can cause natural gas to build up and ignite.”

The goal is to get the devices quickly replaced with a safe alternative.

Expedited Bill 50-20, if enacted, would increase rental property landlord responsibilities related to indoor mercury service regulators and require them to provide certain notices to tenants.

Washington Gas has a plan to remove all mercury regulators from multifamily properties in Montgomery County within three years and within five years from other types of properties, according to a spokesman.

“We appreciate Council President Hucker’s support of removing these regulators and increasing awareness among multifamily properties,” Washington Gas spokesman Brian K. Edwards said in an email. “In addition to his legislation asking landlords to notify us, businesses and homeowners can also contact us if they have questions about whether or not they may have a mercury service regulator.”

There’s more information on how to identify the device on the Washington Gas website.

The public hearing on Expedited Bill 50-20, Landlord-Tenant Relations — Fire Safety — Removal of Mercury Service Regulators, is scheduled for Tuesday.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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