Today’s news in theStar had me shocked for a moment. It’s a pity that the boy was burnt while his father was refueling the gas tank. But there’s more to it.
“My engine was off, I was not using my mobile phone and I was not smoking.” said the father.
The petrol station investigated the matter and claimed the fire was due to static charge, or commonly known as static electricity. it’s a rare case but it still will. It does not mean that you will be safe while refueling your vehicle with the engine off, mobile phone turned off and not smoking. You still have to take care of one more factor, static charge.
Static electricity is an electric charge caused by an imbalance of electrons on the surface of a material. This normally occurs by the contact and separation of materials. You are unable to see the charge as it’s an invincible force, but you should have felt it before in your life, or get a feel of it before. Try touching the panel of a Cathode Ray Tubed television after it’s off with your hair or hairy hands and you’ll get the feel of static electric.
Factors Causing Static Charge
There are various factors which contributes to generation of static charge. Dr. Jesse Laprade, an Extension envirionmental specialist said this,
“Static electricity can build up when a person exits and re-enters a vehicle, particularly in cool or cold and dry conditions. When you exit and re-enter your vehicle while refueling, there is the potential for sufficient static electricity to build up that a spark can discharge between your body and the fuel nozzle. In rare circumstances, the spark can ignite gasoline vapors around the fill spout, causing a brief flash fire.”
Consider common situation where we refuel our vehicles,
A person parks his car at the pump station, opened the car door, rubbed against the car seat while getting out of car, unscrew the fuel tank cover, touched the fuel nozzle and maybe swipe a few cards before inserting the nozzle into the fuel tank. The person then leaves the pump nozzle attached to the fuel tank and gets into the car while waiting for the refueling process to end. After that, he gets out of the car and removes the pump nozzle and puts it back into the pump station.
Static charges that were picked up by the person before the fuel nozzle is attached to the the fuel tank were dissipated few times, thus reducing the amount of static charges collected. However, the problem lies after the person got into the vehicle while refueling. Whenever you get out of the vehicle the second time, new static charges are picked up and they not dissipated yet. If you do not discharge yourself by touching metal stuffs before touching the nozzle, chances are that static charges which are not dissipated will then be transferred to the nozzle, thus having a potential of changing your nozzle into a flame thrower.
Fuel pump stations and the vehicle are already grounded, and the touching of the fuel tank caps and metal body before refueling discharges your body from static charges. However, we seldom realize that we are picking up new static charges while rubbing against the car seats.
Prevention Rather Than Regret
Preventing static charges from causing a tragic fuel refueling process is not very hard. You can refuel a portable fuel container which is placed on the ground rather than the fuel tank to allow electrical charges to escape easily. Do not re-enter a car while it’s refueling. If there’s a real need for it, discharge yourself by touching something metal like the vehicle door before touching the nozzle again. This applies to people surrounding you too. Remember to keep your children safe and make sure they do not play in the car while refueling as rubbing around the car seats creates static electricity too.
Remember, static charge can kill if you do not handle safety well and end up like this.