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Can Cell Phones Ignite Gasoline Vapors?

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the place-your-bets-from-across-the-street dept.

Communications 685

Iphtashu Fitz writes "Matthew Erhorn was filling his car with gasoline outside of New Paltz, NY when when he flipped open his cell phone to answer a call. The next thing he knew he was engulfed by a ball of fire. Luckily for Erhorn a quick thinking employee hit the emergency fire suppression system and he ended up with only minor burns. Firefighters investigating the accident concluded that the cell phone triggered the fire. Experts at The Petroluum Equipment Institute disagree however, attributing the fire to static electricity. Since 1992 the PEI has documented 158 cases of gas pump fires believed to have been started by static electricity. Apparently cell phone signals are too weak to ignite gasoline vapors, but the human body can generate enough static electiricy (60,000 volts) from simply sliding out of your car seat to do just that. Do you pay attention to all those signs at the gas pump telling you to to make sure your car, cell phone, PDA, pacemaker, etc. are all turned off before you start pumping?"

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i don't want to be a fireball (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181676)

no more self-service stations for me.

Urban Myth! (5, Informative)

musicscene (453302) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181680)

The stats also show that women are "the cause" of more fires at the gas pump. Hey, don't blame me... it's just the stats, ma'am!

The Mythbusters [discovery.com] took care of this MYTH in episode #2:

Episode 2: Cell Phone Destruction, Silicone Breasts, CD-ROM Shattering
In this episode, Jamie and Adam test several explosive theories. Can chatting on a cell phone while pumping gas cause the pump to blow up? Our mythbusters put themselves at risk so you don't have to. They also put silicone breast implants to the test at high altitude. Will they burst under pressure? Finally, we'll learn once and for all if high-speed CD-ROM players can really shatter a compact disc.

Re:Urban Myth! (2, Funny)

Honig the Apothecary (515163) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181709)

It was on last night as a matter of fact.

Now, lets seem them tackle the Cell Phone/plane interaction problem. Anybody got a few large airliners that the Mythbusters can use for a few weeks.... :)

Honig

NO! (5, Informative)

hummassa (157160) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181712)

You are not telling the story in hope that people follow the link.
Here it goes, short version: they tried, they tried hard, to make a cell phone ignite gasoline vapours... and they failed miserably. They put the stuff in a closed environment, tested many concentrations of gas vapour, nothing worked.
The only way this happens is static electicity near the fuel entrance

Re:NO! (3)

theLastPossibleName (701919) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181836)

The only thing they left out of their experiment was that they never actually hit the talk button. It may be a minor thing but it was definitely overlooked.

Re:NO! (1)

hangingonwords (581642) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181837)

actually they tested the static electricity myth to... remember when they used the woman's panties and the sliding pvc rod? didn't ignite a fire either...

Re:Urban Myth! (1)

pacman on prozac (448607) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181731)

The article states its the build-up of static rather than the phone itself sparking the fires.

Personally I'd always assumed that was a myth and the petrol stations didn't want people using mobile phones due to interference with their wifi links between the tills and the fuel pumps. If they actually said "no phones please incase we accidently charge you too little" then they wouldn't discourage using them much :-)

Re:Urban Myth! (5, Interesting)

Mick Ohrberg (744441) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181828)

The article states its the build-up of static rather than the phone itself sparking the fires.

Getting in and out of your car is much more likely to cause a spark, precisely due to static electricity. Especially in dry climate and cold days (when people are more likely to leave their engines running as well as get back in the varmth of their car during fueling). And yes, it has been shown that women are more likely to get back in their car during fueling.

Re:Urban Myth! (1)

mabinogi (74033) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181862)

you know, a simple solution to that, is not allow the fuel to flow unattended.

Why the hell do your pumps allow you to let go of them and walk away, whilst still pumping?

cd players.. (1)

xtal (49134) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181749)

Finally, we'll learn once and for all if high-speed CD-ROM players can really shatter a compact disc.


I had this actually happen to me with a CDR. I'm not sure if the disc was damaged, but it sounded like a large firecracker when it catastrophically failed. I'm sure it has happened to others here.

Haven't seen the show to see what they concluded, though.

Also snopes link (4, Informative)

Nakanai_de (647766) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181765)

Further coverage of this myth here [snopes.com] .

Mythbusters says no. (-1, Redundant)

FubarPA (670436) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181681)

It may not be exactly scientific, but they attempted to simluate this on an episode of Mythbusters. The results? It did't explode.

Well, our farts aren't exploding... (4, Funny)

SYFer (617415) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181682)

They're flammable and they originate mere inches from our cell phones.

Re:Well, our farts aren't exploding... (2, Informative)

musicscene (453302) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181741)

Naw... this was Mythbusters episode #1... the exploding toilet.

speak for yourself! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181760)

The eternal blue flame shall reignite forevermore, for it even predated the flame-Gods of Bic!
me

Re:Well, our farts aren't exploding... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181763)


if your cellphone is only inches from your farts i would suggest you are holding it wrong

Re:Well, our farts aren't exploding... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181771)

Uh... speak for yourself!

Re:Well, our farts aren't exploding... (5, Funny)

fmaxwell (249001) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181849)

They're flammable and they originate mere inches from our cell phones.

There you go talking out of your ass again.

Why is the headline a question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181684)

It is obvious that the answer is yes - even from the submission.

Mythbusters (-1, Redundant)

nearlygod (641860) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181686)

Haven't you seen the episode of Mythbusters where they disproved this myth?

nah (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181687)

i thought this was debunked on MythBusters?

Love that show! I wish they had more episodes.

It's not using the cellphone (4, Interesting)

Oronwe (686723) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181689)

The warnings about not using your cellphone at a gas station is because you might drop it and the battery pack might come loose. This could spark as well and cause a not-so-static discharge.

Re:It's not using the cellphone (3, Funny)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181793)

But then wouldn't they also post warnings about anything metal around the gas pumps? Don't drop your keys, they could make a spark on the asphalt...slight chance to be sure, but possible. Also, what if you carry around a lot of flint in your pocket, and you go and get your money out and a few pieces of flint fall to the asphalt or concrete and make a spark? They don't say anything about not carrying flint in your pockets!

Next you'll hear them telling us not to light up a smoke near the pump. Now that's just silly.

It's not dropping the keys either (1)

Tau Zero (75868) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181839)

Keys are made of brass, which is non-sparking.

One wonders if static between e.g. a skirt and nylon stockings could provide a spark sufficient for ignition. If so, it would mean fewer skirts being worn which would be a serious loss for masculinity.

And the cellphone has to be on for this to happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181832)

If you're going to make something up, at least make it plausible.

Re:It's not using the cellphone (-1)

lobsterGun (415085) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181859)

There should be a moderation category for BULLSHIT

Short Answer: NO (4, Informative)

gizmonic (302697) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181690)

They did a thing about this on Mythbusters on Discovery, and were unable to start a fire this way. They pretty much concluded that the static you build up from getting in or our of the car during a fill-up can cause a spark if you touch the car. And doing that near the fueling point can cause a fire. Of course, the worst thing you can do then, which most people do, is pull the hose out of the tank and proceed to spill a LOT of gas into an already burning fire. Not good, especially when you are the one removing the hose. Leave the handle and hose right where it is and get the hell out of there.

And here is a little more data on this urban myth [snopes.com] .

Re:Short Answer: NO (1)

Avishalom (648759) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181729)

first of , what is this ? "Ask Slashdot?"

second, though i agree that the cellphone isn't to blame, failure to start a fire using a cell phone is not proof of anything (i didn't STFS)

Re:Short Answer: NO (1)

canoe_head (772949) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181799)

I seem to recall on that episode that they couldn't get anything to light the fire. They did everything they could to get optimal fuel air mixtures and called the phones numerous times. They even did experiments with fancy underwear to try and get them to create sparks with no luck. The bottom line is that its pretty hard to accidently spark off a fire at the gas pumps.

Re:Short Answer: NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181800)

It's not an urban myth just because mythbusters says it is. In the air force we must have an approved (usually government issued) cellphone on the flight line otherwise there's a risk of blowing stuff up. It sounds stupid they would not only ban some cell phones, but have an approval process to get phones on the flight line, if phones couldn't spark.

Ah... technology (1, Funny)

Professeur Shadoko (230027) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181691)

Another proof that the modern world is a dangerous place.

It was so much safer when native americans used smoke signals to communicate.

Nope (1)

Owen (2514) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181693)

I think it's one of those 'cell phones cause cancer, fires, infertility, ugliness' scams. People are naturally panicky, and this just cements that belief. I ride up will phone, ipod, and palm all on, and have never had, nor ever heard of such a thing being reported.

Did they do this on MythBusters? (-1, Redundant)

FirstNoel (113932) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181694)

They disproved this, although is wasn't a True scientific study. It would take huge amount of air saturation for the gasoline to ignite.

Sean D.

This was on Mythbusters (-1, Redundant)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181695)

I remember seeing this on the TV show Mythbusters. They tried and tried to get a number of cell phones to ignite gas vapors, but failed every time.

They said in the show you were more likely to ignite the vapors from static discharge that's built up from your car and not grounding yourself before touching the pump.

Anyone else remember this episode?

Re:This was on Mythbusters (-1, Redundant)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181719)

lol

Slashdots "this was on Mythbusters" cup runneth over.....

Popular show I guess.

Also, from what I remember from the episode, they had a hard time just igniting the vapors at all, much less from a cell phone.

Cellphone Paranoia (4, Interesting)

stoobthealien (210467) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181697)

Moving on from the gas station thing, what are people's policies about cellphones (or mobiles as we call them in the UK!) and computers. I'm currently in my computer science lab and if I get my phone out of my pocket I'll be banned for the day.

Are they being overly paranoid? Can cellphones really disrupt your average PC in as much as they might ignite petrol fumes...

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (5, Insightful)

timbloid (208531) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181739)

> Can cellphones really disrupt your average PC in as much as they might ignite petrol fumes...

No, but they can put everybody else within earshot off their work, and into a slow state of boiling rage...

Listening to three other people's incessant mindless babbling over their mobiles for a few hours is a good way to get nothing done, and really angry about it...

I'm guessing their reasoning for banning your mobile is just common courtesy...

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

stoobthealien (210467) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181794)

Sadly we have to put up with people's incessant babbling IRL anyway!

I've got no problem with them banning them for courtesy reasons, it's just when they cite "science" and don't really mean it.

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

Xenophon Fenderson, (1469) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181822)

Is it that difficult for you to ignore distractions? Perhaps it's because I come from a large and noisy family, but I have no problem tuning noises and distractions out, especially when augmented by headphones and a CD player. Also, you're in a LAB. Often, teams of people are working together in a lab, and this means sometimes spirited discussions of the work at hand.

Of course as someone who is frequently told to be quieter, I guess my threshold for "loud and distracting" is higher than most. C'est la vie.

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181759)

Sometimes when I have my cellphone under the monitor and it rings I get some weirdness on the screen, and of course my speakers get disrupted. No lasting damage though. Doesn't make sense why they'd ban them there.

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

larien (5608) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181761)

Possibly; think about how much a mobile disrupts a telephone conversation (I'm sure you've heard the bleeping on the phone while your mobile receives a text message!). When I first got a mobile (about 7 years ago), I could tell it was going to ring before it made a noise, simply because of the disruption on the monitor.

As for the real impact, well, I work in an office where almost everyone has a mobile and the computers are generally well-behaved.

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

dickiedoodles (728410) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181773)

Are they being overly paranoid? Can cellphones really disrupt your average PC in as much as they might ignite petrol fumes...

I've seen monitors flicker badly a few times when someone made a call standing near to them but I'm not sure if it'd cause any permanent damage it was a CRT monitor, I think TFT screens are immune to that kind of thing but I could be wrong. If mobile phone signals could actually cause serious permanent damage to electronics then your phone would be the first thing to go, right?

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

AmigaAvenger (210519) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181804)

Can cellphones really disrupt your average PC in as much as they might ignite petrol fumes...
YES!

I used to have an old crappy aiwa sound system, and if the cell phone was laying on top of it and would ring, it would reboot the player, sometimes even hard locking it so it would need the power cord pulled. (turning the phone one while it was on top also did it)

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

shadowcabbit (466253) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181825)

Some older model phones did exhibit a strange interaction with the computers at the university where I used to work. I had an old Nokia something crappy or another (not the big Long Plastic Brick Of Doom, but a shorter heavier one-- can't remember the model number, this was three years ago) that, whenever I brought it in to work, would cause popping noises to come out of the speakers/headphones every four seconds or so. Really freaked me out for a while till I figured it out.

Re:Cellphone Paranoia (1)

Crizp (216129) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181835)

nah, wouldn't think so. AFAIK, the only way a cellphone might disrupt with a computer's data is with the speaker's magnet - but it's so tiny, I think the casing on the hard drive itself would shield enough.

As for memory, calculations in progress... I really don't know, but it would be cool if someone here with the expertise could explain WHY the cellphones (GSM at least) make clickety noises in loudspeakers when there's an incoming call. (dat dadadat dadadat dadaDAAA%#%") And if this signal, frequency, whatever can actually interfere with the electronic processes in a computer?

I know, it interferes when placing a call too, and sending an SMS, just weaker. Again, why? I could google for it but I don't care much really. I keep my cell on the computer case and haven't had problems yet :)

Finns have already taken precautions (2, Interesting)

Hank Powers (467121) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181699)

In Finland, the local subsidiary of Esso has forbidden tbe use of mobile phones at gas stations. That has been effect for a few years. No-one seems to follow the rule, however. :)

Mythbusters TV Show (-1, Redundant)

kalaef (677578) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181700)

On the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters they tackled this problem in Episode 2 ( Episode Guide [discovery.com] ). They did numerous tests and concluded it wasn't possible to start a fire at the pump with a cell phone.

Re:Mythbusters TV Show (5, Interesting)

makomk (752139) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181758)

Here in the UK, the program "Brainiac" tried to get petrol vapour to explode using a mobile phone. They put loads of open-topped containers of petrol in a caravan together with mobile phones and rang them. Nothing happened.

They did manage to get a very nice explosion by leading a wire to the cravan and getting soomeone wearing nylon clothes and standing on a bucket to touch the other end, though.

PS. They really liked blowing up caravans...

I always turn off my gadgets.. (1, Funny)

StormyWeather (543593) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181701)

before pumping.. I hate being interrupted..

Re:I always turn off my gadgets.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181802)

turning on is a turn off for you?

Myth Busters (-1, Redundant)

rice_web (604109) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181703)

Myth Busters really debunked a lot of the theories behind gas station explosions when they tried to light a guy sitting on a toilet on fire.

Long story short: only when they combined extremely flammable substances would the cigarette (yes, the cigarette, a flaming, toasting, more-active-than-a-cell-phone cigarette) engulf the toilet in flames.

it might be possible ... (1, Interesting)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181706)

for your cell phone to ignite a fire from gas fumes.
But it's the pizo-electric buzzer that would cause it. Most cell phones have a pizo-electric transducer that generates the ring tones. Pizo electric devices can generate high voltage discharges, in fact they are used in ignitors for gas grills. But this would only happen if your phone rang while you were pumping gas, not if you were to make an outgoing call. The transmitter in your phone CAN'T cause a fire.

Re:it might be possible ... (1)

BCoates (512464) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181870)

piezos generate electricity when you hit them, there's a whole spring-hammer system in an ignitor. Short of smacking the phone with a claw hammer, how would the piezo speaker generate a spark by playing a ringtone?

It can (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181707)

If the phone is on fire.

The vibrator motor (2, Interesting)

the_archivist (686965) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181710)

The commutator sparks would be the most likely couse IMO.

Mythbusters (-1, Redundant)

yar (170650) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181713)

Mythbusters [discovery.com] did a fun episode [discovery.com] on this very subject. They, at least, came to the conclusion after quite a bit of testing and consultation with persons (vague, huh? I just don't remember who specifically the people were, other than a university professor) that there was no way that a cell phone would ignite the gas. In most cases it ended up being static generated when people went into and out of the car while pumping gas.

Short term problem (1)

CdBee (742846) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181714)

It's only petrol (Gasoline) vehicles for which this presents a serious risk. I could drop a lit match into the fuel tank of my diesel car and it would just go out.

If the oil supply is as low as some sources claim (C 30 years) get used to the idea of catalysed diesel engines and vegetable oil fuel. Safe and Green!

The myth of green fuel (2, Informative)

xtal (49134) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181807)

If the oil supply is as low as some sources claim (C 30 years) get used to the idea of catalysed diesel engines and vegetable oil fuel. Safe and Green!


I have yet to see a good energy analysis of biodiesel done that accounts for all the inputs used, e.g. fertilizer, fuel used by harvesting equipment, and energy for processing and transport. It would suprise me if there was a net energy gain, actually it would probably shock me.

Thermodynamics is dismal stuff. Oil works because there are billions of watts just sitting there needing to be scooped up, more or less. Other green technolgies require a lot more processing and it becomes harder to get an energy benefit.

Biodiesel can be used to make other processes more efficient by burning waste, but it in itself does not provide a net energy gain.

Re:The myth of green fuel (2, Insightful)

CdBee (742846) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181865)

Probably true of itself, however:

Vegetable oil can be used industrially then processed into fuel - probably millions of gallons a year are used for cooking. In parts of Japan all vegetable oil is stored after use, collected by a weekly tanker and reprocessed into bio-diesel.. sometimes mixed with regular diesel to improve the taste but used nonetheless.
This probably leads to a net energy gain.. especially when you consider that it rids society of the problem of disposing of used cooking oil, which can be a problem in itself.

MythBusters! (-1, Redundant)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181715)

MythBusters [discovery.com] looked into this. They built a chamber and filled it with various levels of gasoline vapors and then called cell phones that were in the chamber. I don't recall everything that they did, but it was pretty extensive and they couldn't get the vapors to explode.

The conclusion was that a static spark from your coat on a dry day is FAR more dangerous than anything a cell phone can spit out.

And remember... it's lawyers who have those signs put up. Not scientists. They're just protecting the company's butt even if there's absolutely no scientific proof that cell phones could cause an explosion.

-S

Be sure to remove your coat *before* pumping! (1)

Jeremy Singer (717636) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181861)

Also, ladies should remove their nylon stockings or pantyhose. Be sure to remove your boots, shoes and gloves, then touch the body of the car to ground the car. You are probably safe at this point, but if you are still concerned, ask to have you and your car hosed down while you pump the gas.

Unlawful in Puerto Rico (2, Interesting)

WolfTattoo (732427) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181718)

FWIW, for over a year now it has been illegal to even have your cellphone on at gas stations in Puerto Rico. If you are seen using one at a station you can be fined (forget the exact penalty, but I think its like $250). We were somewhat baffled when this law went into place, and it still seems there is little fact to support it.

I can believe the static (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181721)

certain times of year our Opel becomes a generator for static electricity.

A little over a week ago it was. I remember it like it was a little over a week ago. every time I got out of the car the doorframe zapped me when closing it. So the natural reaction to this is to close the door by pushing the window. "smart thinking" ... no not really you still carry the static charge around. as my cat found out when it wanted to greet me by rubbing her nose to my hand. Needless to say the blue spark and the zap startled the poor thing and she wouldn't go near me for a couple of days.

Exactly how would a mobile phone ignite it? (1)

nordicfrost (118437) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181722)

I have seen the warning signs in the gas stations, telling everyone to not use their phones while in the petrol station. At least here in norway, they are everywhere.

Aside from the occasional exploding batteries in Nokias, what on earth could make a spark in a regular phone? There's no high voltage circuits, no glow points.

On ther other hand, I have seen sparks while my statically charged body touched the ground (shell) of the car,

Re:Exactly how would a mobile phone ignite it? (1, Funny)

shadowcabbit (466253) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181872)

On ther other hand, I have seen sparks while my statically charged body touched the ground (shell) of the car,

That may be a problem with the electrical system in your car. Mine does the same thing very nearly every time I get out of the car, and it's become progressively more painful. I figure my car is either trying to tell me two things: a) "Don't take corners at 45mph, John, I don't like it when you do that" or b) "I have a serious problem that demands your attention, John, so stop buying video games and food and drive me to the god damn garage".

Mythbusters? (-1, Redundant)

xTMFWahoo (470364) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181724)

Did anyone see the episode of MythBusters [discovery.com] where they DISPELLED this urban legend??? They filled a 10x10 or so chamber with gas fumes and called a cell phone repeatedly- no fire....

UK Experiment Says No (4, Informative)

Sirch (82595) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181726)

A rather trashy science program in the UK on Sky, called Braniac: Science Abuse performed an experiment where they covered a trailer in gasoline and left a mobile phone in it. They then phoned it. Nothing happened. Then they added more gas and mobile phones, and phoned them all at the same time. Still nothing happened.

Not sure it proved anything, so they blew it up with something anyway. Bit of detail here [fact-index.com] .

No, it's mindless paranoia (1)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181733)

Probably started by the same people who think you can hijack a 747 with a knitting needle.

IEEE Spectrum says "no" (1)

martinde (137088) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181734)

Of course, I cannot seem to find it on the online version but I believe the May 2004 issue has a one-pager about it saying that this is a myth. Someone conducted a bunch of experiments and could not come up with a scenario where a cell phone could ignite gaslone vapors...

Re:IEEE Spectrum says "no" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181829)

I beleive IEEE Spectrum said the myth originated somewhere in Asia, and the incident never really happened. It was propagated worldwide by the media who never checked the facts. People just assumed it was true because the media said so.

Don't think it's possible for a phone to cause it. (1)

68K (234318) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181735)

A show on the BBC last year filled a caravan with petrol (and allowed time for it to be filled with vapours), and added about 10 mobile phones. They were all called at once and nothing happened. The only way they could get the thing to explode was by sending it a static charge.

Myth ... (0)

z0ink (572154) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181738)

BUSTED !

Static Electricity (1)

Phosphor3k (542747) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181740)

Is the problem. The cellphone thing might have just been a coincidence. See here. [about.com]

I live in the Washington DC area and we've had a few of these caught on video in the last 6 months. It's really crazy to see. One minute your pumping gas, the next your catching fire. Guess you should pay attention to those warning stickers at the pumps that say turn your car off, no smoking and no cellphone usage, eh?

I'm not going to read the prior posts and say... (1)

linuxrunner (225041) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181745)

DMAN MAN... Didn't you see that Mythbusters episode??

The sad part is, they're ALL getting "informative" posts... hello?

Anyhow, shouldn't the original editor of seen this... we are geeks right?

Modern tires increase static buildup? (1)

Bushcat (615449) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181746)

With the move to lower carbon content in modern tires, are they less able to dissipate any static buildup?

Mostly women... (2, Interesting)

CheapScott (83584) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181748)

Not to pick on women, but I did hear that it was mostly women who would cause fires by static electricity. This was because they would most often leave their purse in the car or have want to attend to the kid inside of the car once they've started pumping the gas.

The recommendation was to get out of the car and stay out until you're done filling the tank.

Another tidbit: If you're filling up a portable gas tank, it is recommended that you maintain contact between the gas nozzle and the can during the gas transfer. This, due to the gradual transfer of electrical charge as the gasoline flows from the hose into the gas can. Keeping nozzle in contact allows the charege differential to equalize continually without turning your gas can into a capacitor...zap!

Re:Mostly women... (1)

CheapScott (83584) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181792)

Oh, and another anecdote about gas station fires.

My wife and I were at a gas station the other day and a couple of older people were sitting in their Cadillac, waiting for the attendant to fill the tank. Both of them were chatting away between taking drags on their cigarettes!!! I couldn't believe it.

Being a local volunteer firefighter, I stated so, and requested that they please not smoke. Idiots. At least they put out their cigs.

P.S. No, I'm not kidding...I really do have a wife...and I read /. :-)

Re:Mostly women... (1)

Polkyb (732262) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181834)

Another reason that women may be more affected is that they are more likely to have long hair, which could cause a spark closer to the filler pipe/nozzel

They are also more likely to be wearing clothes made from materials which generate lots of static

Fault (3, Interesting)

klaasb (523629) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181753)

Hey, it's the gasoline that causes the burns not the cellphone.
We are blaming the wrong item here :-)

Time to get rid of this way to old fashioned source of energy anyway.

Pacemaker? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181757)

all those signs at the gas pump telling you to to make sure your car, cell phone, PDA, pacemaker, etc.

Turn off you PACEMAKER? What?

People! Mythbusters is not the final say! (1)

DarkFencer (260473) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181764)

Why do so many people think Mythbusters is the final say on science? It is a TV Show people. They tried it. It didn't happen. That doesn't mean it CAN'T happen. THey didn't scientifically prove ANYTHING, they just didn't get it to occur which showed it to be unlikely.

I do remember last week when I saw the gas station closed with the fire trucks all around it (I live in New Paltz) and was like WTF but I do believe it was the cell phone that did it.

The most disturbing thing about this article... (4, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181769)

Is that the fire chief is so adamant about blaming cell phones rather than simple static electricity.

1. Cell phones emit minimum amount of power (no microwave heating of the fumes).
2. AFAIK there's no documented cases of cell phones starting a gasoline fire.
3. Electric sparks obviously can start gasoline fumes on fire. How do you think a spark plug works?
4. We all know how easily static electricity can build up from simply walking across a rug on a dry day.

Kinda makes you wonder just how much training the fire chiefs have. I'm sure they know how to fight fires, but at least this guy seems to have limited knowledge and analytical skills about how fires start.

Hi! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181772)

I just wanted to say something about "Mythbusters". It seems to be the cool thing to do here. Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters MythbusteLameness filter encountered.
Your comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition. Comment aborted.rs Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters MythbusLameness filter encountered.
Your comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition. Comment aborted.ters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters MythbustersLameness filter encountered.
Your comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition. Comment aborted. Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters Mythbusters

exploding cell-phones (0)

kwikrick (755625) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181778)

ofcourse, there have been several exploding cell-phone incidents. Exploding cell-phones would do the trick. Or maybe it was gass fumes that caused the expldong cell-phone incendent?

Aha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181779)

This is why we have a brain dead government. Cheney always shuts off his pacemaker before he pumps gas (or visits an oil drill).

what about a refinery ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181787)



do you think you can use a mobile phone at refinery in close proximity to hazzardous material ?

wanna be safe or sorry ?

Static electricity due to locking pump on (4, Interesting)

cybergibbons (554352) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181789)

It seems as if, reading the report, that nearly all of these accidents resulted from someone putting the nozzle into the vehicle, then locking it on, leaving, coming back, and a static discharge igniting the vapours near the filler cap.

This is reasonable - you quite often feel small static shocks. Especially in dry hot weather, perhaps explaining a high incidence of acccidents in Texas and Nebraska, and a lot less in humid coastal ares.

And when you are filling up, you often see clouds of vapour almost pouring out of the filler. These would be very easy to ignite.

Here in the UK you can't put a pump on automatic fill. You need to hold the trigger whilst all the time. The handle is grounded, so that as soon as you touch it, the static goes, and as long as you keep on holding it, there won't be a problem, as there will be no sparks.

Well.. (3, Interesting)

hookedup (630460) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181795)

I have a video on my email, girl gets out of car, starts pumping her gas, gets back in her car to what looks like put some lip stuff on. she gets back out and goes to touch the handle pumping gas into her car, and whooosh! fireball.

she pulls the nozzle out of the car, and you can see fire comming from the gas tank, as well as the nozzle. she ends up dropping it and running away.

all from a little static..

sounds possible (3, Informative)

scampiandchips (741448) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181797)

With process plants if we got any level of escaped gas etc.. you initate a level 1 shutdown which kills power to everything.
Even the UPS sytem that fed an automated tranmitter, the idea being that the transmitted radio waves could induce current and possibly lead to a spark in any nearby metal.
Petrol isn't quite as flammable, but the same principle applies. If you had you phone near a suitable surface an incoming call may well have the same effect.
Personally i'm more concerned about the mobile phone masts they have installed in petrol station signs.

Sound theory unless he had leather seats. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181806)

Anyone that had leather seats in their cars should know that the chances of building up static electricity in a car that has leather seats are practically zero.

So has he sued the gas station yet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181810)

For not having their gas pumps up to regulation and allowing so much gas to be let out that it was able to ignite? I bet lawyers are calling this guy around the clock.

Grounding Strap? (2, Insightful)

malia8888 (646496) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181812)

He and Jim Farr, a fire marshal from Gaston County, N.C., study static fire and say your body can build up a static charge in different ways, such as getting in and out of a vehicle.

Why not just have patrons rigged up to a type of grounding strap while pumping gas? This would also prevent them from re-entering their vehicle while filling the tank if the stap were short enough. From reading the reports this appears to be a bigger risk than phone usage. Besides, if somebody fails to pay for gas the strap keeps him/her from running away. :P

Sure, why not? (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181814)

Inconvenience to me of leaving my phone in the car when filling up: essentially zero.

Inconvenience to me of going up in a ball of flames if it turns out the stories are true: potentially life-altering.

Really, as far as risk management goes, this one seems to me to be a no-brainer. I don't need to make or take a call while filling up my car; if the call is that urgent, the car can wait, and vice-versa.

As asked on Discovery Channel (2, Informative)

Larkfellow (265776) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181816)

This question was also asked by the Myth Busters [discovery.com] on the Discovery channel, in episode 2 [discovery.com] And their discoveries came to the same conclusions as the PEI, that cell phones do not causes explosions, but that static electricity, especially that built up by entering and exiting the vehical while pumping up, was the cause of many gas station fires.

MYTH this is what it is. (3, Interesting)

ITman75 (671124) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181820)

On the Discovery Channel there is a show called Mythbusters (love that show) and they tried every which way to see how a cell phone can ignite gasoline vapors.

They had there "blast chamber" filled with gas vapors and oxygen. Called the cell phone and nothing happened. Infact they ended up trying just static electricity and still nothing happened.

We tried ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181847)

A cell phone could cause a gasoline explosion by causing a spark. There are two possible kinds of sparks that a cell phone could cause.

Pushing buttons on the phone could result in switch closures causing sparks. This isn't very likely. There isn't very much energy there and any switches are so well contained that a cell phone practically qualifies as an explosion proof device. Things like the starter motor cause way more sparks.

My class (Microwave techniques) was interested in the possibility that the RF field caused by the cell phone could induce voltages in nearby metal parts which could cause sparks. In theory, this could happen. (With high power transmitters operating at lower frequencies nearby metal objects will spark.) In practice, we were unable to create a structure that would produce a spark even if we deliberately created resonant circuits.

I think there is a reason that people are willing to believe that cell phones can cause explosions. When you drive by a site where they are blasting there is a sign asking you to turn off your radio transmitter. This is quite a different case though. In this case, the wire leading to the blasting caps acts like an antenna. A nearby radio transmitter could induce enough current to detonate the caps. The transmitters that can do this are the kind that the police used to use operating in the short wave band. They had way more power than cell phones.

Of course... (1)

rjch (544288) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181854)

...I don't. Even in Australia, there are signs all over every petrol* station warning you to turn off your mobile phones. In some cases they go so far as to tell you not to use your remote car locking.

Unfortunately, it's paranoia of getting sued that drives this. Companies all over the place do things they know are ridiculous to cover themselves in the event that someone does a really stupid thing that they should know better. The company I work for has just annoyed over a thousand customers by insisting that advertising "lightboxes" are moved inside as we have been informed that there is a very slight chance that if someone touches it when it is very wet that they may get a minor electrical shock.

Of course companies need to act responsibly when they determine that a danger exists. However, the issue of mobile phones at petrol pumps is similar in many ways to the infamous do [adelphia.net] not [madsci.org] eat [manilasites.com] stuff you find all over the place. Design something idiot proof, and they'll design a better idiot. People manage to hurt and main themselves doing all kinds of really stupid [darwinawards.com] things.

* Petrol = Gasoline for Americans who don't what I'm on about

My own theory... (1)

hangingonwords (581642) | more than 10 years ago | (#9181866)

Maybe the people causing the fires just have "explosive" personalities?

Not a myth (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9181869)

I work for a major manufacturer of gasoline dispensers (and many run Linux).

The sigificant risk for ignition via a cell phone is by dropping the phone. The battery separates, and a spark insues.

UL defines the Class I Division 1 area (considered explosive) as approximately 3 feet high and 18 feet in diameter from the source (dispenser). At the typical operational height of a cell phone there is little risk, even if there was sufficient RF energy. However if you drop it, the vapor does hover above the ground and presents a significant risk.

The predominate risk is static electricity. In times past (the 90's and earlier), vehicles would simply vent the vapor (largely pentane and butane) from the tank's fillneck by displacement as fuel was introduced. This led to a cloud of saturated vapor in proximity to the fillneck that was too rich to ignite at the fillneck interface. Newer vehicles have onboard vapor recovery whereby a carbon canister retains the vapor as your dispense. Consequently saturated vapor no longer clouds the fillneck area and the explosive region moves closer to the fillneck where a spark from static dischage (nozzle to car/hand to nozzle/hand to car) will cause ignition.

Treat fueling like handling a chip. Discharge yourself against the pump chasis first (damn well grounded) and vechile to put everything at the same potential before dispensing.

NEVER refuel a portable gasoline container upon an insulated surface like a carpeted trunk or plastic truck bedliner. Set it on the concrete, otherwise you've crated a perfect Lynden Jar capacitor. Many fires happen in this manner.

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