Fifteen restaurant owners in Shenzhen have been detained for using a dangerous substance as fuel in their kitchens.

The substance, known as “environmental oil,” is a liquid typically formulated with 95 per cent methanol, ethanol, gasoline, and other flammable substances, The Paper reported.

Containers of fuel. Photo: The Paper.

According to mainland news sources, the substance has a low flash point of about 28 degrees Celsius, is flammable, and very volatile. Containers filled with the liquid could explode in a fire. Its vapour is also denser than air, which means it can spread at low levels and ignite if it meets an ignition source. Methanol fumes are also toxic and could harm the neural system if inhaled.

Restaurants in Shenzhen’s Bao’an district were found to be keeping barrels of the fuel near heat sources. The restaurants, located below residential buildings, had replaced their conventional gas with the fuel to save money, The Paper reported.

The fifteen restaurant owners were put under administrative detention for five days. If this kind of fuel is used or handled improperly, perpetrators could face punishment from administrative detention to five years or more in prison.

Explosion at a Luohu restaurant in October. Photo: Weibo.

The police inspections came after an explosion at a Luohu restaurant in late October. The owner of the restaurant was killed in the incident. He was suspected to have been improperly adding fuel to a fuel tank at the time. Shenzhen News later reported that “environmental oil” was a cause of the explosion.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.