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An old friend forwarded an email to me warning about the danger of static electricity causing fires at gas pumps. The email got my attention by emphasizing that “almost all” of the 150 reported cases of such fires researched by the Petroleum Equipment Institute involved women pumping gas at self-serve stations. My wife pumps her own gas and we’ve both noticed that during cold weather we often get a shock when one of us touches the metal on her car to unlock it. In fact, it’s not unusual to see a spark when we get the shock.
The email went on to say that the fires most often result when customers pumping gas create a static charge by leaving the pump running while they re-enter their cars to do or get something during the fill-up. Then, when they retouch the nozzle after the fill-up, the static discharge creates a spark that can result in a fire or explosion.
To avoid the potential of a fire at the gas pump, the email advised, “NEVER get back into your vehicle while filling it with gas. If you absolutely HAVE to get in your vehicle while the gas is pumping, make sure you get out, close the door TOUCHING THE METAL, before you ever pull the nozzle out. This way the static from your body will be discharged before you ever remove the nozzle.”
For more information, the email referred me to the Petroleum Equipment Institute’s web site at http://www.pei.org. I went to the web site and clicked on the “Stop Static” icon. The “Stop Static” campaign was initiated by the American Petroleum Institute and the Petroleum Equipment Institute to “remind motorists how to avoid potential problems with static electricity at the gas pump.” The campaign coincides with National Fire Prevention Week, October 6-12.
The PEI web site documents the problem caused by static electricity at self-serve gas pumps and also includes additional consumer refueling safety guidelines to keep consumers safe. Interestingly, the site is aware of the email message that is being widely circulated and advises, “The email you may have received did not originate from PEI. Remarks regarding cellular phones, gender and footwear are inaccurate. Refueling fires that appear to be started by static electrical discharge are detailed in our report.”
Evidently, a well-meaning person became aware of the stop static campaign and issued the email, which is spreading like wildfire. While some of the facts in the email are not correct, the problem is real and the public should be made aware of the potential danger. In fact, the spread of this email is reminiscent of the famous email that circulated a couple of years ago about the earth’s population. (“If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this…”) Some of the statistics in that email message were also inaccurate.
The ESD Journal, which is a leading journal covering the field of electrostatic discharge, also has information about the “Stop Static” campaign and the email message. A copy of the email message being circulated is reprinted by the ESD journal on their web page at http://www.esdjournal.com/static/email/warning.html.
The email message alerts readers to the problem but does not address what to do if a fire occurs at the gas pump. The PEI’s web site offers this advice, “In the rare event a motorist experiences a fire when refueling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe of your vehicle and back away from the vehicle. Notify the station attendant immediately to shut off all dispensing devices and pumps with emergency controls. If the facility is unattended, use the emergency shutdown button to shut off the pump and use the emergency intercom to summon help. Leaving the pump nozzle in the vehicle will prevent any fire from becoming much more dangerous.”
While the chances of such a fire or explosion are extremely rare (150 cases out of approximately 50 million fill-ups a day), it’s tragic if you are one of the unlucky few.
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on
October 16, 2002. Greg Gore
can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.