The Petroleum Equipment Institute report on gasoline fires started by sparks-Truth!

The Petroleum Equipment Institute Report on Gasoline Fires Started by Sparks-Truth!



Summary of eRumor:

A message said to have resulted from a conversation with Robert Renkes of The Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) who says there have been more than 150 cases of fires caused by sparks from static electricity igniting gasoline vapors.  The eRumor says it has happened mostly to women, mostly with Dodge Caravans, and mostly among people who have re-entered their cars during refueling. The email encourages caution when drivers are filling their tanks at gas stations.

The Truth:

Robert Renkes, the Petroleum Equipment Institute, and a report on fires started by static electricity are real.  The institute is sponsoring a project called “Stop Static.”

Static electricity is the build-up of an electrical charge, such as around a person,  that can be discharged when coming into contact with the ground or anything connected to the ground, such as a light switch, an elevator door, or even another person.  When that happens, people feel a “shock” as the electricity discharges.  To minimize the danger of static sparks igniting gas vapors,  the pump nozzles at gas stations have a wire that “grounds” the nozzles to the equipment.  The Petroleum Equipment Institute says there are many fires that have been started by flame, cigarettes, or electrical sparks, but until recently, there had not been much documentation about fires started by sparks from static electricity.  Further, the fires happened where there was no open flame, no cigarette, and the pump nozzle was properly grounded.

In a report on their website (, the institute says it has collected data regarding more than 150 fires that they believe have been started by static sparking.  They recommend more research, but their conclusion is that most of the fires resulted from a motorist scooting in and out of the car during the refueling, which caused a build-up of static electricity.  Then when the motorist touched the pump handle or the area around the gas cap, the spark discharge and ignited the gas vapors.

The “Stop Static” campaign recommends three rules for making refueling a vehicle safer:  1.  Turn off the engine.  2.  Extinguish any cigarette.  3.  Don’t get in and out of the car during the refueling.

Some of the other findings in the PEI report include that all of the fires took place on days of dry weather, usually also cold weather, and that the drivers mostly wore shoes with rubber soles.  One of the versions of this eRumor says the incidents happened mostly to women, but there is no information in the report about that.

The PEI report did not blame any of the fires on cell phones.  Although some gas companies and cell phone manufacturers say cell phones should not be used at gas stations, there have been no gasoline fires or explosions that anybody knows of caused by radio transmissions from cell phones.  CLICK HERE for more details on that.

last updated 05/11/02