Cell phones + Gas station – A Hoax or a Fact?

You are just a call away no matter which part of the world you are. Sounds interesting!! Credit goes to people who first believed this technology was possible and proved it right by creating Cell Phones. In one hand people have high-tech cell phone connectivity and on the other alarming genetic damage due to cell phone emissions. According to industry-funded study cell phone emission may cause tumors, increased blood pressure, weakening of the immune system and memory loss. No concrete evidence could surface around this so people are least bothered and using it with no fear.

Cell phones are always surrounded by numerous warnings and in the recent time warnings have taken a different turn, a more incendiary kind. Large number of mails floating on the internet warning drivers who do not switch off the cell phone while fueling their cars being blown off in gas vapor explosion. A faulty cell phone can cause sparks or build up a static electricity in the user but could be duplicated under controlled condition. However, cautious cell phone manufacturers and gas station take no risks and advise users to switch off their phones. The warning email claims the Shell Oil Company as its source and quote incidents of gas station explosion due to cell phone emissions.

Incidents listed in the E-mail: 1) A cell phone rings on the boot and generates a ball of fire. 2) A person got a nasty facial burn while speaking on the phone. 3) Cell phone rings in the pocket and causes burns to the groin and in the thigh region. This hoax mail was first landed in the inbox of a Shell employee who rebroadcasted it with Shell Company seal on the mail. The non approved Shell seal gave the hoax more credibility. After a hard search no one had ever found the news reports that confirm any of the three incidents mentioned in the E-mail. Later, Shell denied having issued any such warnings and quoted:

We understand that there is an email, purportedly official Shell communication, circulating which describes various incidents that are supposed to have occurred as a result of cell phones ringing while at a retail station.

Please be advised that the email in question does not originate from Shell and we are unable to confirm any of the incidents quoted.

The first question: Can a cell phone ever set off a gas station fire? And the answer is NO according to ATB (Australian Transport Bureau) who closely investigated the reason behind 243 petrol fire cases happened worldwide between 1993 and 2004.  Even AMTA (the Australian Cell Telecommunications Association) and API (American Petroleum Institute) followed the statement by saying, “We have not found a cell phone responsible for any fire since the beginning of mankind”. In an episode of the popular television show MythBusters the myth that static electricity from a cell phone can ignite a nearby gasoline vapors fell flat to all the corners. The National Fire Protection Association conducts the research and tries permutations combination to address the potential gasoline vapor explosions. According to the guidelines fuel containers stay 18 inches deep below the customer fueling area and it doesn’t have explosive concentration of vapors. Fuel filler necks are located just 18 inches above the containers and expectancy is down to ZERO for any such explosive concentration of gasoline vapor in normal operating conditions. 

The second question: What was the reason behind 243 petrol station fire? And the answer is Static Electricity. All of us have seen or felt a spark coming out of synthetic clothing during dryness of winter, and synthetic car material stings needles while sliding in and out of the car. Synthetic material can build up a big static charge, if the wiring on the petrol hose is broken and you touch the metal nozzle of the petrol tank to any metal petrol tank, a visible spark can be easily discharged. In conclusion, synthetic clothing and materials are the culprits most of the time, cell phones are ok though.

The third question: Why do phone companies and gas stations post warnings? The first answer: Cell phones do not have “Intrinsic Safety” to make it suitable in truly hazardous inflammable vapor situations. The second answer: Fear of legal liability, despite of all the evidence proving cell phones non- hazardous at the gas station.

The last question: Is there still a chance of setting it off? According to the experts there is a risk involved in using a cell phone near the gas station as it may set off an explosion. We not only have found no real life incident of such an explosion so far, nobody has ever demonstrated experimentally that it is even possible. According to Nokia and Ericsson risk is too small that something will happen, but since risk is involved, it should be counted to avoid the unforeseen disaster. So far nothing gives a concrete reasoning to switch off the cell phones but why take a risk when it takes only a few minutes to refuel the thirsty car and zip on the road to explore other proven facts. Until then, cell phone setting the gas station on fire stays a myth.