Static Electricity May Pose Fire and Injury Hazards During Vehicle Refueling

Here is some information you may want to include in your public safety messages and fire prevention programs.

The Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), Tulsa, Oklahoma, began documenting in January 2000 fires that have occurred during the refueling of vehicles. The fires had been reported verbally and in writing. One result of the investigation was the launching of PEI’s StopStatic. Campaign, an initiative The Bell Club of New York is also promoting.

Robert N. Renkes, executive vice president and general counsel of PEI, noted that an analysis of the 36 ignitions of gasoline vapors during the refueling process reported to him between September 1999 and January 22, 2000 revealed that they all occurred during dry weather, there were no open flames, and the car engines had been turned off. Additionally, continuity between the nozzle and dispenser was verified. These findings led investigators to conclude that static electricity was the ignition source in all these instances.

About 150 cases were investigated. Some fires were found to have occurred before the refueling process began and in instances where the person went back into the vehicle while the nozzle was still pumping gas and then got out of the car to pull the nozzle out of the tank. Renkes explains, “Many motorists return to their cars to stay warm, make a phone call, or retrieve a purse or wallet. When they slide out of their car, a static charge is generated. Then, when they touch the nozzle, a spark ignites fuel vapors around the nozzle.”

Among the other investigation findings was the fact that almost all of the individuals involved were women. One explanation for this fact might be that most men do not get back in their vehicle until refueling has been completed. Most of the consumers were wearing rubber-soled shoes.

The fires involved a variety of car brands and models. In some cases, the fires caused extensive damage to the vehicle and the gas station and injuries to the consumer.

The PEI stresses that consumers should be made aware of the fact that they should never get back in the vehicle while the car is filling with gas. However, if it is necessary to leave the vehicle while the gas is pumping, the consumer should close the door touching the metal before pulling out the nozzle. This will discharge the static from the body before touching the nozzle and surrounding area.

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