November 11, 2005
Hospital warns gas pumps, static electricity not a good mix
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—As you fuel up your car for holiday travel, be wary of a seasonal danger at the pumps—gas fires sparked by static electricity.
Such accidents can happen at any time, but they’re more common in December, January and February, said Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, the statewide injury prevention program at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.
“When temps drop and the air gets dry, conditions are ripe for static electricity,” she said. “Plus, when it’s cold outside, people don’t like to stand outside while pumping gas. They slide back into their cars, building up static that can be discharged when they grab for the nozzle to finish fueling.”
According to the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), people re-entering their cars during refueling was a major cause of the 162 gas pump fires that occurred from 1992 to 2005.
Fairburn said if such a fire occurs, it’s best to leave the nozzle in the fill pipe and back away for your car. “Tell a station attendant immediately so they can shut off the pumps.”
The institute said such predicaments are best avoided by remaining outside your car whenever you’re refueling. If you must re-enter your vehicle while gas is being pumped, discharge any static by touching a metal part of the vehicle with your bare hand before reaching for the nozzle.
Fairburn said it’s also wise to turn off your engine before fueling. “The PEI says that a running car provides a number of ignition sources for fuel vapor, so it pays to be safe,” she said. “Plus, you wouldn’t want to be standing by if a fire melted your fuel hoses and your running fuel pump started spewing gasoline at an open flame.”
The PEI also offers the following tips to keep you injury free at the pumps.
- Turn off your vehicle engine. Put your vehicle in park and/or set the emergency brake. Disable or turn off any auxiliary sources of ignition such as a camper or trailer heater, cooking units, or pilot lights.
- Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling at the pump or when using gasoline anywhere else.
- Use only the refueling latch provided on the gasoline dispenser nozzle. Never jam the refueling latch on the nozzle open. Do not over-fill or top-off your vehicle tank, which can cause gasoline spillage.
- Never allow children under licensed driving age to operate the pump.
- Avoid prolonged breathing of gasoline vapors. Use gasoline only in open areas that get plenty of fresh air. Keep your face away from the nozzle or container opening.
- Never siphon gasoline by mouth nor put gasoline in your mouth for any reason. Gasoline can be harmful or fatal if swallowed. If someone swallows gasoline, do not induce vomiting. Contact a doctor or and emergency medical service provider immediately.
- Keep gasoline away from your eyes and skin; it may cause irritation. Remove gasoline-soaked clothing immediately.
- Use gasoline as a motor fuel only. Never use gasoline to wash your hands or as a cleaning solvent.
- When dispensing gasoline into a container, use only an approved portable container and place it on the ground to avoid a possible static electricity ignition of fuel vapors. Containers should never be filled while inside a vehicle or its trunk, the bed of a pickup truck or the floor of a trailer.
- When filling a portable container, manually control the nozzle valve throughout the filling process. Fill a portable container slowly to decrease the chance of static electricity buildup and minimize spilling or splattering. Keep the nozzle in contact with the rim of the container opening while refueling.
- Fill container no more than 95 percent full to allow for expansion.
- Place cap tightly on the container after filling—do not use containers that do not seal properly.
- Only store gasoline in approved containers as required by federal or state authorities. Never store gasoline in glass or any other unapproved container.
- If gasoline spills on the container, make sure that it has evaporated before you place the container in your vehicle. Report spills to the attendant.
- When transporting gasoline in a portable container make sure it is secured against tipping and sliding, and never leave it in direct sunlight or in the trunk of a car.