Portable Gas Can Explosion Risks and a Promising Solution

 Author: Bridget N. Long, Petersburg, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Portable Gas Can Explosion Risks and a Promising SolutionThe small, plastic gas cans that millions of Americans keep around their homes could be a serious threat to safety. While gasoline is widely known to be a dangerous substance, primarily due to its combustibility, the risks surrounding portable gasoline containers are far more obscure. Perhaps surprisingly, the standard plastic gas can carries a risk of explosion that has caused over one thousand serious injuries and several deaths in the United States since 1998.[1] Though there are ways to make the cans safer, users should take proper safety precautions to minimize the risks they present.

The explosive danger of red gas cans

Gas can explosions are most commonly caused by a separate heat source igniting the gasoline fumes inside of a can. The standard gas can design actually creates a suction effect when close to a heat source, pulling hot air or flames inside of the container. This heat source can then react with the gasoline fumes inside the can, resulting in fire or an explosion that shoots flaming gasoline in all directions, endangering the can’s user and everyone around him or her.[2]

The easiest way to fix the problem is to fit the gas cans with a flame arrestor. This small piece of wire mesh would cover the can’s opening and dissipate the hot air entering the container in a way that completely eliminates the risk of explosion—as long as the arrestor is properly designed and installed.[3] Installing arrestors is also a practical solution; arrestors cost about five cents each. Though installation of the arrestors could raise manufacturing costs by thousands of dollars annually, the measure could save gas can producers millions of dollars in damages from civil suits brought over can explosions.[4]

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended that all gas can manufacturers begin using flame arrestors in their products. So far, however, no flame arrestor has passed all of the tests being administered by Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the organization tasked with studying flame mitigation devices on portable gas cans. Until a device gets the necessary results, it is unlikely that flame arrestors will become commonplace in gas cans despite their safety benefits.[5]

Regardless of whether flame arrestors become mandatory, no one should use a gas can without taking the proper precautions. Gas cans should never be used around open flames, which pose the greatest risk of ignition. Users should also wait for their machinery to cool down before using these cans to refuel, as recently used equipment can produce the hot air necessary to ignite the gasoline. Some producers have started selling industrial-grade cans that have flame arrestors installed, so anyone wary of using a container without one can purchase the safer can.[6] Gasoline is a dangerous substance, but improper gas can use can greatly increase the threat it poses.

About The Author: Bridget Long is an experienced trial attorney focusing her practice on personal injury law at Allen & Allen in Petersburg, Virginia. She has handled cases involving car accidents, catastrophic injuries and wrongful death and has litigated cases throughout Virginia on behalf of clients injured due to the negligence of others. She is an active member of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and has been named a "Super Lawyer" in Virginia Super Lawyers Magazine for the past seven years.  Bridget is passionate about defending the rights of the injured. 


[1] http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/consumer-warning-gas-cans-could-explode-without-wa/nk9PL/.

[2] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/14/portable-gas-can-explodes-no-flame-arrestor/3551143/; http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/consumer-warning-gas-cans-could-explode-without-wa/nk9PL/.

[3] http://www.wdaz.com/news/3781707-gas-can-fire-safety

[4] http://www.wltx.com/story/news/local/onyourside/2014/10/31/millions-paid-in-exploding-gas-can-settlements/18195167/.

[5] http://www.wdaz.com/news/3781707-gas-can-fire-safety

[6] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/14/portable-gas-can-explodes-no-flame-arrestor/3551143/; http://www.wltx.com/story/news/local/onyourside/2014/10/31/millions-paid-in-exploding-gas-can-settlements/18195167/

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