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Can Cell Phones Cause Explosions at Gas Pumps?

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Email rumors claim using a cell phone at a gas station can ignite gasoline vapors and cause a fire and/or explosion.

Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: April 1999
Status: False

Example #1:
Email text contributed by Mark T., May 20, 1999:

FW: Cell Phones

According to a report released by Shell Chemicals, a driver in Indonesia suffered burns and his car was severely damaged when gasoline fumes ignited an explosion while he was filling up. Apparently, the driver had been talking on his mobile phone while the attendant was filling up his car. All the electronic devices in gas stations are protected with explosive containment devices, while cellular phones are not. Mobile phone makers Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia, all print cautions in their user handbooks that warn against mobile phones in "gas stations, fuel storage sites, and chemical factories." Exxon has begun placing "warning stickers" on its domestic gasoline at its stations. Exxon stated the threat mobile phones pose to gas stations and their users is primarily the result of their ability to produce sparks that can be generated by the high-powered battery inside the phone.


Example #2:
Email text contributed by Justin L., May 18, 1999:

Subject: Mobile Phone Warning

Mobile phones are an explosive risk at gas stations. You should switch off your mobile phone while filling your car. This is the latest advice for mobile phone users and gas station attendants alike from the Chinese Petroleum Corp. (CPC), which has recently informed all its affiliates to be on alert for people chatting on mobiles while pumping gas, a practice it asserts can cause explosions. "There have been several explosions in Southeast Asia and Europe, and we hope similar tragedies can be avoided in Taiwan," said David Tung from CPC's main engineering division. According to a report released by Shell Chemicals, a driver in Indonesia suffered burns and his car was severely damaged when petrol vapor exploded after being ignited by static electricity from the mobile phone he was using.

Apparently, the driver had been talking on a mobile phone as a gas station attendant filled his car with petrol. When the driver bent down close to the petrol tank to check whether it was full, the vapor exploded. In Belgium, customers have been prohibited from using mobile phones within 10 meters of gas stations, and warnings are posted everywhere to remind people of the danger, according to a Belgian newspaper.

The threat mobile phones pose to gas stations and their users around the world is largely due to their ability to produce sparks. These can be generated by the high-powered battery inside the phone, which is itself, a possible cause of fire. But the electromagnetic waves emitted by the phone are more than sufficient to create considerable static electricity that heats the surrounding air, and, if the flammable vapor is concentrated enough, causes an explosion. But other electronic devices installed in the gas stations are safe.

"All the electronic devices in gas stations are protected with explosive containment devices, while cellular phones are not," Tung explained. Mobile phone makers Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia, all print cautions in their user handbooks that warn against mobile phones in "gas stations,fuel storage sites, and chemical factories." But the danger is still being ignored by many users who continue to talk on their cellular phones while filling up at gas stations. "Asking them to turn off the phone is the only thing we can do now, but not all the users like to do: some of them even get mad with me," one attendant at a gas station complained. In fact, if danger is to be avoided, all transmitting devices - not just mobile phones - should be switched off near gas stations and locations housing flammable substances.

Mobile phones should also be switched off near sensitive electronic equipment, in places such as hospitals and airports for public safety reasons.



Analysis: In progress. . .


Last updated 11/23/10

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