Cell Phones Aren’t the Problem, Static Is

You may have seen the warnings on Facebook about staying off your cell phone while pumping gas. The warnings claim the cell phones can generate sparks that ignite the gasoline fumes. Problem is that there isn’t a simple instance of this actually happening. The example used on the Facebook warning references an explosion in Adelaide in Australia. There was, indeed an explosion but it wasn’t caused by a cell phone it was caused by static electricity.


The fact is that static electricity, most often acquired when the person pumping the gas climbed back in the vehicle for some reason, has been credited with at least 150 fires at the gas pump since researchers started tracking this phenomenon.

To protect against static electricity explosions at the pump, here are a few safety tips:

  1. Don’t climb back into your vehicle while pumping gas.
  2. Make sure you touch the metal on your vehicle to dissipate any static electricity you might have built up.
  3. Do not “top off” the tank. Besides the fact that it actually gives you worse mileage instead of more miles per tank, it also creates a lot of extra fumes. Fumes, by the way, is what is flammable.
  4. If you are filling a container make sure it is an approved gas can and make sure it is sitting on the ground when you fill it to keep static electricity from building up. It should NEVER be sitting in the trunk or inside the vehicle.

Understanding how static electricity fires start at the gas pump and understanding how to prevent them is essential for refueling safety.

Fueling and Static Electricity

Static electricity, for the most part, is simply annoying. You get a shock when you go to open the file cabinet. You spark when you go to shake hands with someone (It can actually be quite painful when you go to lock lips for a passionate kiss and that static electricity sparks. Ouch!). Static electricity, however, can also be something to pay serious attention to when you are handling fuel. Improperly grounded fuel dispensers can be extremely dangerous.

For an example of what fuel and static electricity can do, have a look at this video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnPz5mx_1AM. This explosion which resulted in the death of the driver was so powerful that it blew the truck up in the air and it landed on the overpass.

Bonding and grounding is not a problem when you fill up your tank at the gas station because it’s built into the pump. It’s all UL approved.

When refueling trucks and heavy equipment, however, it’s important to make sure that the bonding wire is properly attached. It is also important to make sure that you ground the truck as well.

If you handle flammable liquids on a regular basis, make sure that you understand the basics of bonding and grounding.