Cell phone & fires

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Senior Member
Re: Cell phone & fires

I will read your link, but I am going to have to see some serious stats and facts that really prove this is a problem. I certainly agree static discharge in the presence of combustible fumes presents a hazard, but from cell phones? I am thinking this is an "Uraban Myth" that has gone out of control.

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
Re: Cell phone & fires

I know there is a committe from the Instrumentation Society of America working on standards for cell phones in hazardous areas. Also there is a company who makes intrinscially safe calculators and laser pointers. this is a big issue in the petrochemcial industry, they take it very seriously.


Senior Member
Re: Cell phone & fires

Any type or RF transmitter can produce a electrical current in a remote peice of metal this is why we have to turn of radio transmitters like CB's cell phones even police rados in blasting areas. If a peice of metal or wire is close to the resonet frequency of the transmitter it will develope a current in it and can discharge to another close by. this has been known for a long time.

[ March 18, 2003, 10:15 PM: Message edited by: hurk27 ]

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
Re: Cell phone & fires

This is from some notes to my 2002 NEC changes class:
The Instrumentation Society of American (ISA) has a working group reviewing the hazard of battery powered equipment in hazardous locations. The SP12 committee is working on ?Portable Electronic Products Suitable for use in Class I and II Division2, and Class III, Divisions 1 and Hazardous (classified locations) While cell phones and pagers are used all the time in hazardous locations, there are no guidelines on how to use them safely. One guide line in the new document on when its safe to use a cell phone?if you can drop it from 2 meters and it doesn?t break or is damaged then you can use it safely.

Check out this link: www.ecom-ex.com


Senior Member
Re: Cell phone & fires

People pull into gas stations with the car radio on. The car itself is running electrical current to all types of equipmnent around the car like the brake lights, power windows, interior lights, etc.. People wear watches, cell-phones, pagers, and so on. I know there is a potential hazard, but I think cell phones are pushing it.

luke warmwater

Senior Member
Re: Cell phone & fires

There was a show on TV last week that talked about this. I think the show was called "Big Urban Myths" or something like that. It talked about 'true' cases where people would fuel up and static charge would ignite the fumes. The show claimed that most cases were women. They claim that a person gets out of vehicle, opens gas cap(discharging static), inserts nozzle, and fuels. But the cases where someone has ignited the fumes, got back in the vehicle, creating another static charge ,then exits the vehicle, grabs the nozzle, and discharges, igniting the fumes. The first reaction is to pull the handle out, which then sprays fuel and causes a bigger blaze, and potentially sets the person ablaze. The show went on to say that if this ever happens to you, leave the nozzle in because the flame of fumes will go out, without spreading. The show didn't mention anything about a cell phone being related to any of the known cases where this has happened.


Re: Cell phone & fires

I've read a couple of studies (wish I could provide links / references).

Most all of the studies indicated that cell phones pose little to no risk of explosions at a gas station. The voltages/currents inside a phone are not high enough to cause a spark for ignition. (I worry more about some of the ballasts & control electronics in the pumps, or that back-firing vehicle at the pump next to me.)

Most of the cases of fire, were from static build-ups. Mostly from clothing developing static charges from entry/exit of a vehicle. The other cases were from gas containers left inside of, or in the truck bed. Experts advise ALWAYS filling containers, on the ground, so that any static charges that may develop, will dissapate to "ground". Several incidents happened just as the nozzle was making contact with the container, just before pumping began - indicating a static buildup.

I don't worry about my cell phone... But I do tend to try to "ground" myself, in order to dissipate any charges.... Although pump nozzles & hoses contain a grounding conductor, sometimes I think a ground wire/clamp (like what is used in the aircraft industry, might not be a bad idea... But I doubt too many people would use them, and I"m sure they would fall into disrepair / vandalism pretty quickly.

The cell phone thing seems to be an urban legend... But PLEASE, put your gas cans on the ground when filling them, and turn off your engines!

I'll get off my soapbox / podium now.... :)


Senior Member
Re: Cell phone & fires

I just got this e-mail from our management:

The Shell Oil Company recently issued a warning after three incidents in which mobile phones (cell phones) ignited fumes during fueling operations.

In the first case, the phone was placed on the car's trunk
lid during fueling; it rang and the ensuing fire destroyed
the car and the gasoline pump.

In the second, an individual suffered severe burns to their
face when fumes ignited as they answered a call while refueling
their car.

And in the third, an individual suffered burns to the thigh
and groin as fumes ignited when the phone, which was in their
pocket, rang while they were fueling their car.

You should know that: Mobile Phones can ignite fuel or fumes. Mobile phones that light up when switched on or when they ring release enough energy to provide a spark for ignition. Mobile phones should not be used in filling stations, or when
fueling lawn mowers, boat, etc.

Mobile phones should not be used, or should be turned off,
around other materials that generate flammable or explosive fumes or dust, i.e., solvents, chemicals, gases, grain dust, etc.

Another safety warning you should know about concerns static electricity. Below is an email from Pat Cabiling who works at Chevron Texaco's Richmond Refinery.

Four Rules for Safe Refueling
1) Turn off engine.
2) Don't smoke.
3) Don't use your cell phone - leave it inside the vehicle or
turn it off.
4) Don't reenter your vehicle during fueling.

Bob Renkes of Petroleum Equipment Institute is working on a
campaign to try and make people aware of fires as a result
of 'static electricity' at gas pumps. His company has researched
150 cases of these fires. His results were very surprising:

1) Out of 150 cases, almost all of them were women.
2) Almost all cases involved the person getting back in their
vehicle while the nozzle was still pumping gas, when finished
and they went back to pull the nozzle out the fire started, as
a result of static.
3) Most had on rubber-soled shoes.
4) Most men never get back in their vehicle until completely
finished. This is why they are seldom involved in these types
of fires.
5) Don't ever use cell phones when pumping gas.
6) It is the vapors that come out of the gas that cause the fire,
when connected with static charges.
7) There were 29 fires where the vehicle was reentered and the
nozzle was touched during refueling from a variety of makes
and models. Some resulting in extensive damage to the vehicle,
to the station, and to the customer.
8) Seventeen fires that occurred before, during or immediately
after the gas cap was removed and before fueling began.

Mr. Renkes stresses to 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.

As mentioned earlier, The Petroleum Equipment Institute, along with several other companies now, are really trying to make the public aware of this danger. You can find out more information by going to http://www.pei.org. Once here, click in the center of the screen where it says "Stop Static."

I ask you to please send this information to ALL your family and
friends, especially those who have kids in the car with them while pumping gas. If this were to happen to them, they may not be able to get the children out in time.

Thanks for passing this along.
Pat Cabiling@Chevron Texaco USA RFMS Richmond California Refinery
Phone: (510)242-1454 Email: ppca@cheverontexaco.com


New member
Outside the USA
Re: Cell phone & fires

If the power from a cell phone could ignite gasoline fumes , imagine what the scared family would do if they had to exit the vehicle while re-fuelling and the door switch sends current to the interior lights, or worse yet, the power window was used. This could be a new episode for "FEAR FACTOR".


Re: Cell phone & fires

According to all of the Urban Myth sites. This has no basis in fact.

Here is a C&P from one of the more popular sites:

"Origins: Warnings
about the dangers of using cellular phones in the presence of gasoline fumes began circulating on the Internet in 1999. Though both versions of the Internet warning allude to an accident in Indonesia wherein a driver was burned and his car badly damaged as a result of such an explosion, no reports ever surfaced in the news media to confirm the incident. Moreover, nothing turned up about similar explosions in other countries. If sparks from cell phones were touching off conflagrations at gas pumps around the world, the phenomenon escaped the media's notice.

Curiously, in May 1999 a lengthy article appeared in the Bangkok Post in support of this tale. It mentioned "a recent report in the China Post newspaper" and from there proceeded to parrot the warning given in the longer example quoted above, complete with reference to the report by Shell Chemicals on the injuries suffered by the man in Indonesia and the Chinese Petroleum Corporation's instructions to filling stations to get drivers to switch off their phones while fueling. One wonders where the writer of the Bangkok Post article harvested his information -- from the Internet in the form of the much-forwarded warning, or from reading the newspaper article in the China Post.

Okay, so the bit about a guy in Indonesia being turned into a human fireball doesn't stand up -- what about persistent rumors about an Australian man done in by his mobile phone as he refueled?

Although in 1999 oil companies told the South China Morning Post they had heard reports of an Australian man being blown up recently when his phone rang as he was filling his car with gasoline, fire service heads in Australia insist the incident never happened.

As for incidents elsewhere in the world, after several reports in the United States where mobile phones were blamed for fires at gas stations, both the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and the American Petroleum Institute issued statements denying the risk. The CTIA said, "There is no evidence whatsoever that a wireless phone has ever caused ignition or explosion at a station anywhere in the world. Wireless phones don't cause gas stations to blow up. Warnings being posted in petrol stations simply perpetuate the myth." The American Petroleum Institute said, "We can find no evidence of someone using a cellphone causing any kind of accident, no matter how small, at a gas station anywhere in the world."

In June 2002 the following authoritative-sounding warning began circulated on the Internet:

The Shell Oil Company recently issued a warning about three incidents where Mobile Phones have ignited fumes while being answered or ringing during fueling operations. What specifically happened

Case 1
The phone was placed on the car's trunk lid during fueling, it rang and the ensuing fire destroyed the car and the gasoline pump.

Case 2
An individual suffered severe burns to their face when fumes ignited as they answered a call while refueling their car.

Case 3
An individual suffered burns to the thigh and groin as fumes ignited when the phone, which was in their pocket, rang while they were fueling their car.

What should you learn from this?

It is a misconception that Mobile Phones are intrinsically safe and can't ignite fuel/fumes. Mobile phones that light up when switched on, or when they ring, have enough energy released to provide a spark for ignition. Mobile phones should not be used in filling stations, or when fueling lawn mowers, boats etc.

Mobile phones should not be used around other materials that generate flammable or explosive fumes or dust (i.e. solvents, chemicals, gases, grain dust etc.). Mobile phones should be turned off before entering an area where other materials that generate flammable or explosive fumes or dust is located.

Please share this with employees who do not have access to email, family members and friends to help keep everyone safe.
Though we've looked long and hard, we've haven't found news reports that confirm any of the three incidents described in the e-mail. Moreover, Shell denies having issued a warning of this nature:

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

Please be advised that the email in question does NOT originate from Shell Malaysia and we are unable to confirm any of the incidents quoted.
The "three incidents" e-mail was later teamed to a warning about another danger lurking at gas stations, that of static electricity touching off fires. We cover that e-mail on our Static Quo page.

Okay, so it hasn't happened yet. Is there still potential, yet unrealized, risk in using cell phones while refueling?

According to the experts, there is a danger of touching off an explosion by using a mobile phone near gas pumps. However, this is a hugely remote possibility at best, and the risk is nowhere near as immediate as that of a number of other common pumpside behaviors such as smoking or leaving the engine running while filling the tank. Even so, gas pumps in Australia bear stickers cautioning motorists to turn off their phones while refueling; Shell in Malaysia has affixed similar stickers to each of its gas pumps; numerous pumps in the U.S.A. are similarly adorned; Canada's major gas pump operators have banned customers from using mobile phones while at the gas pump; and the city of Cicero, Illinois, recently passed the first law in the USA banning the use of cellular phones at gas stations.

Cellular phone manufacturers Nokia and Ericsson have said that the risk is very small that something will happen, but since there is a risk, it should be counted. Nokia also said that the company has been recommending for a long time that the mobile phones should be turned off while the car is being refueled. What it is about a cellular phone that could possibly trigger an explosion is difficult to fathom, however. The claim that the batteries used in a cellular phone can ignite gasoline seems specious, since cellular phone batteries are the same voltage as automobile batteries (12V D.C.) but deliver far less current. Likewise, the claim that a "cellular phone ringer uses more than 100 volts for excitation" is a curious artifact of the "regular" telephone era: cellular phones don't have ringers; they produce audio tones that simulate the sound of a ringing telephone.

In a world where people are increasingly unwilling to allow even the possibility of something going wrong, however, we're bound to see even more regulations "protecting" us from yet another non-existent threat.

Barbara "gasoline alley oops" Mikkelson"
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