SAPPORO – An explosion in Sapporo that injured 42 people over the weekend occurred after two employees of a real estate office located at the site emptied about 100 deodorizer spray cans at once, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.
Apaman Co., which operates the real estate office, said in a statement that the employees reported having turned on a water heater afterward. The blast damaged buildings as far as 100 meters away.
Investigators believe gas built up inside the office, the doors and windows of which were closed at the time.
According to the manufacturer of the deodorizer, the product continuously releases its contents for about four minutes once a button is pushed.
Apaman’s Hokkaido unit said such sprays are used to get rid of odors at properties handled by the company. The shop destroyed in the blast had been scheduled to be renovated in the near future.
“We want to offer our sincere apologies to the victims of the explosion,” Apaman said in the statement.
No one was killed in the blast, partly because it took about 10 minutes for the building to be engulfed in flames, according to police.
Survivors, who were initially trapped on the second floor of a Japanese-style pub next to the real estate office, said they were only able to escape when the entire second floor collapsed after many of them flocked to the window-side of the building.
A 41-year-old woman living near the real estate office said she saw two young men outside the building holding spray cans in both of their hands and emptying them toward the real estate office at around noon Sunday. She added she saw a cardboard box at their feet with six more spray cans inside.
“I saw white smoke and smelled something like mint. My eyes were hurting. I reported it to police as I thought it was related to the incident,” she said.
In the explosion, which occurred around 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Toyohira Ward, 19 males and 23 females, age from 1 to their 60s, were injured.
Wooden buildings housing the real estate office, the izakaya pub and a clinic collapsed, forcing diners and shop staffers to flee in panic.
As a fire blocked the stairs of the pub, one man said he jumped from the window, while others said they were rescued after falling to the first floor.
A 49-year-old man recalled his escape, saying, “If the (second-level) floor had not collapsed, all of us would have been burned to death.”
Two male employees of the real estate shop are believed to have been near the blast center. One of them was seriously hurt, while the other sustained minor injuries.
Makoto Tsujimoto, a professor emeritus of building fire prevention studies at Tokyo University of Science, said if gas concentrated in a closed space catches fire, air suddenly expands, causing an explosion nearby coupled with potential fires.
“People at the center of the blast could sustain burns but may only suffer relatively minor damage,” he said.
In the past, consumers in Japan were advised to puncture spray cans before discarding them, but an increasing number of municipal governments have banned doing so in recent years due to the risks of explosions and liquid contents splashing into people’s eyes.
Following accidents involving spray cans, the Environment Ministry advised against puncturing cans in a notice to municipal governments in 2015. But some local governments continue to ask consumers to puncture them as their garbage trucks would need to be replaced if they are to follow the guidance.
For safe disposal, an industry body is calling on consumers to use up the sprays, check if the cans are completely empty by shaking them and remove the gas by using an attached special cap outdoors where there is nothing to cause a fire.
Manufacturers have developed the special cap to help remove gas safely, and most aerosol spray products are now equipped with it.