Pumping gas the other day, I mindlessly read (with my cell phone in hand) the “Do not use cell phones while pumping gas” sticker on the side of the pump. While this may seem daring – or just downright stupid – I’ve seen the episode of MythBusters (where they prove that a cell phone will not cause a fire at the gas pump) so many times that I’ve been ignoring the sticker ever since. As I sit down to write this blog, however, I started to wonder how credible was MythBusters? Could their answer be wrong?
After doing some more research on my own, I found some very interesting information. Every source I ran into seemed to say the same thing: cell phone signals are not strong enough and do not create enough of a spark to ignite gas fumes. Not only did their reasonings differ, however, there were some slightly more frightening ideas presented!
According to the Federal Communications Commission (or FCC) report, there has been a lot of testing done and no link has been established between cell phone usage and gas pump fires. However, under extremely precise conditions, it could theoretically still happen.
Of course, with any electronic their is a danger of malfunctioning. In the case of cell phones, if the battery were to explode, that could ignite a fire at the pump, says CBS News. Otherwise, they agree that it is nearly impossible for cell phones to be an actual threat.
If these sources, however, both do agree that there’s nothing to worry about, why all the warnings when you pump your gas?
Both ABC News and Discovery present a very good theory: static electricity.
According to Jim Farr, a fire marshal in Gaston County, NC, interviewed by ABC, just from scuffing your feet on the carpet, there have been recorded static electricity measurements of 35,000 volts. Getting in and out of cars, there have been recorded measurements of over 60,000 volts. This high charge is more than enough to cause a fire.
Discovery explains the entire concept further. A running car will generate heat, and as you may know, heat causes expansion. This “expansion” also occurs in the charges of atoms or molecules within materials. The charges caused by this expansion will need to be discharged immediately, and this is what is known as static electricity. When the atoms discharge, it causes a spark, and this spark could possibly be what is being confused as coming from a cell phone when causing fires at the gas pump.
The only thing I’m still not certain of is this: What certain conditions could actually cause the cell phone to spark a fire? Obviously, the exploding battery would be a very specific condition, but is there anything else? I couldn’t find this on the FCC’s governmental website, but it’s definitely food for thought.
If anyone’s interested in watching who hasn’t seen it already, here‘s the episode of MythBusters I referenced earlier… enjoy!