NBC News is reporting that red plastic portable gasoline containers – consumer gas cans sold throughout the U.S. – may pose an explosion hazard many consumers may not know about. Approximately 20 million gas cans are sold in the United States each year, and there are more than 100 million plastic gas cans currently in circulation. According to the report and lab tests, there exists the potential for certain gas vapor mixtures to explode inside the cans, possibly causing significant, even catastrophic injuries.
The federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) analyzed incident and injury databases and counted at least 11 reported deaths and 1,200 emergency room visits involving gas can explosions during the pouring of gasoline since 1998.
The results of scientific tests conducted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s combustion lab with the support of the gas can industry, published earlier this year, show the conditions under which so-called “flashback” explosions inside the cans are possible. Other tests conducted for plaintiffs’ attorneys, for a government criminal investigation, and for NBC News all reached the same finding.
At least 80 lawsuits have been filed during the past two decades on behalf of individuals injured in alleged gas can explosions. The allegations are that portable plastic gas cans are “dangerous” and “unsafe” because they are “susceptible” to flashback explosions. Most of the lawsuits have named as defendants Blitz USA, until recently the largest manufacturer of plastic gas cans, and Wal-Mart, the largest seller. The lawsuits allege that all the incidents were flashback explosions of the kind WPI’s results demonstrated, from ignitions inside the cans. They allege that the gas cans are “susceptible” to such internal combustion explosions and are therefore “dangerous,” “unsafe” and “defective” for a specific reason: because their design does not include a flame arrester, a part the lawsuits allege could prevent flashback explosions.
Flame arresters — pieces of mesh or disks with holes that are intended to disrupt flame — are in use in metal “safety” gas cans, in fuel tanks, and in storage containers of other flammable liquids such as charcoal lighter fluid and rum. The CPSC has stated that it believes that “this technology also should be included in gasoline containers….CPSC is calling on the industry to regain the momentum that was lost in years past by designing their products to include this safety technology. In addition, CPSC is asking voluntary standards organizations to incorporate a flame arrestor system into applicable safety standards for gas cans.”
Factors causing or contributing to gas explosions resulting in burn injuries or wrongful death have included improper gas line locations, faulty parts and equipment in mobile homes, workplace equipment, camping equipment, and defectively designed propane stoves. One important signal indicating the potential for a catastrophic event is the odor of gas (note that although gas has no smell, laws require that odorants be added for safety purposes). Should a gas leak be suspected, the property owner or occupants should immediately evacuate, then contact the proper authorities.
Swartz & Swartz, P.C. has investigated and handled major gas explosion cases, which have far-reaching consequences for those who have lost family members, suffered severe injuries or lost their homes. If you or someone you know has been affected by a gas explosion, seek experienced counsel early in the process to ensure that evidence is preserved and legal rights are protected. If you or a loved one has any questions about potentially defective gas cans, or other gas-related safety matters, contact the law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C. in Boston, Massachusetts.