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Cell phone in petrol station warning hoax

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Some time
ago I posted a warning about the use of cell phones at gas/petrol stations
only to be told this had all been a hoax.  At this time I added this
page to explain the situation.  I have, however, now received the
following information which I
thought may be of interest.

After reading all the
various comments I think the lesson to be learned is that it maybe wise to
err on the side of caution – better safe than sorry!


A Junior
Research Engineer, Shell Motorsport (18th December, 2007)

“I was just reading your article on the
“mobile phone in petrol station hoax”. This was because an email
had been distributed amongst shell employees about a man killed due to an
explosion due to petrol fumes when using the torch to check a product.

Although this is an unusual case,  I still
believe that there is some myth surrounding the use of mobile phones in
petrol stations- your website claims that explosions as a result of mobile
phone use are all myths, should be amended.

This visitor sent
me a video clip showing this incident . Unfortunately, the service station
employee didn’t follow the procedures during the discharge (It happened
around 3:00AM). He used his mobile phone as a lamp to illuminate
the tank to see if the product was right….. Unfortunately
this man died two days after.

I felt, however, that not only was the
video clip too graphic to include on this site but it may also be considered
disrespectful to the gentleman and his family.


G. W. Low

“I work with electrical equipment
for use in the Hazardous Area Industry. It is a well know fact that using a
mobile phone while filling up at a petrol station could cause an explosion.
It’s not the phone signal but the possible static charge that could build
up on the person and then discharge to the car via the pump filler. I have a
photo of a Shell burnt out station after such a situation. The people that
are writing in should state their experience in the Petrol Chemical Industry
before commenting.”

Matt Morman (a cell phone technician) 

had a few things to comment on about the “fact or fiction cell phone
myth”.  There is a industry standard that our Government regulates
the electronics used in gas pumps, and anything dealing with explosive
chemicals.  The reasoning for this is the ESD (Electrostatic
discharge).  Gas pumps have specialized equipment in them to dissipate
the static.  As a matter of fact,  any equipment involved in the
manufacturing, shipping, or selling of chemicals, or petroleum’s has to b
equipped with the protective circuits. All  electronic devices emit ESD,
regardless of the power output,  However, cell phones are not
equipped with this feature.  That is why the owners manual for every
cell phone carrier warns you not to use it at a gas pump, so they are not
liable when someone blows themselves up.

problem is that gas cannot be ignited by this low voltage but look at it
from this stand point.    If you are holding your cell phone
while pumping your gas, the gas is not the problem, it is the fumes that the
gas omits when it is being pumped,  if you have ever pumped gas into
your car in temperatures above 85 degrees F you will see the fumes.  If
your 2 feet from the source of the fumes and your phone rings, assuming the
vapors have got into your phone, it is very possible that the vapors could
be ignited by the frequency, but more likely the ESD spark that might be
sent out thought the phone.  Here is why,  anything that consist
of electrolytes can cause a bridge in power circuits, the electrolyte
being the gasoline fumes, would bridge point a to point b, creating a spark
from shorting, and or ESD displacement.  And I know what most people
would say, in theory it sounds good, BUT!!  etc…….  Am I in no
way saying every time you use your phone at a gas station, you will blow
yourself up,  But what about a phone that is out of calibration, a
malfunctioning phone if you will.  What if the voltage regulator is out
of calibration and is letting your phone charge at  2 times the rate, 
then the battery in your phone is over charged, and therefore could spark
depending on the humidity, or heat, etc….  Even if there is no proven
evidence of this now, one day it will happen.  

is why they tell you to put your gas jug on the ground to fill it, if it is
in the bed of your truck, and you have a bed liner, guess what, no ground
for the jug, the ESD from your body jumps through the nozzle of the pump
when it hits the electrically charged up plastic and boom, your in flames
before you know what happened.  There is proof of this on the web, I
saw it with my own eyes on the TV.  Keep in mind they said Theory wise
it made since 5 years ago, but there was no proof. Just as many people said that
think I’ll take their word for it.  And by the way I am a Cell phone
technician, so my info is based on facts, not opinions.  Thank you for
your time.”

 I received the following warning regarding the use of cell
phones in petrol stations but, unfortunately, this appears
to have been a hoax.
  The warning posted on the site was as

“Three incidents reported as gas/petrol

While pumping fuel a car caught fire from
fumes emitted from the tank – a cell phone placed on the trunk/boot lid of the car

A man got his face burned while talking on
the phone when refuelling his car.

A cell phone burned a man’s trousers when the
phone in his pocket range whilst refuelling.

Tips for you:

Keep your cell phone switched off at
gas/petrol stations.

If expecting an urgent call and the phone
cannot be switched off, keep it in the car and don’t answer when refuelling.  Let’s
face it what call is that urgent – much better to switch off until leaving the garage.

I think this is an extract from an HSA
warning from Society of Petroleum Engineers dated 11.2.01. and was sent in by Reg

Mr. Andrew Frost MIEE and R. S. Charig LL.B. MCIJ have both been kind enough to put me right
with the following explanations –

Mr. Frost

Just one thing though (on a topic which annoys me a little!!)
– your GarageTips include a report about using mobile phones at petrol stations. There are
many petrol stations that ban mobile phone handsets, but all of the hype around this can
be traced to an urban myth. There has been a lot of recent discussion on this issue by
members of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) (though unfortunately I don’t
think you’ll be able to look at the online forums unless you’re a member…)

There are three possible causes of ignition of flammable
vapours by a mobile phone:

1) Radio signal
2) Spark from components
3) Vibratory ringer

1. The radio signal strength is well known and can be
calculated (this is for GSM phones: I don’t think that GPRS is much different, though I
wouldn’t like to say about UMTS – the so-called ‘3G’ phones) – and the strength of the
electromagnetic field produced by a GSM phone is not sufficient to cause petrol vapour to
ignite. Signals from mobile phone handsets do not approach the strength of the masts to
which they communicate, and there are over 200 of these hidden on Shell forecourts (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2309645.stm).
So the danger from a mobile phone radio signal causing a fire is negligible.

2. This is discussed in a (technical) article at
– basically, unless you stick a bit of metal directly across the battery contacts, there
is not enough energy in a mobile phone to cause a spark of sufficient energy to ignite
petrol vapour.

3. A vibratory ringer is just a small off-balanced motor, and
motors contain commutators that may cause sparks. I’m not sure if the
energy involved in these (given the discussion in ‘2’) will be more than the energy
available from the battery (due to the coil of wire in the motor) but would say that, when
comparing a tiny motor in a phone to a large starter motor that draws 200 Amps or so, then
I know which one I’d say is more likely to cause a spark! In general the risk from the use
of mobile phones at petrol stations is negligible; the reports of accidents are either (a)
complete fabrication (
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/fuelish-pleasures/ )
or (b) due to other causes, such as static electricity (see

I’m not asking you to take down the warnings on this that are
on your site (it’s better to be safe than sorry!), but I’d prefer it if they were tempered
by some of the facts, or some of the opposing arguments were put forward.

  Andrew Frost MEng MIEE

R. S. Charig explains

I know it’s difficult when you’re dealing with raw
information but I’ve found several untrue pieces of information.  This one worries me
the most and is an internet hoax. Verified by www.truthorfiction.com

Cell Phones have Caused Explosions
at Gas Stations –

Summary of the eRumor
There are several different versions that describe instances
when explosions or fires were caused at gas stations by people using cell phones.

The Truth
The bottom line is that there are no documented
cases that anyone can find of gas fumes being ignited by a cell phone.  

The issue is not a simple one,
however, because some oil companies have issued bans on cell phones at their stations and
cell phone manufacturers have printed warnings about using their equipment around fuel

Some observers say that the warnings
are reactions to the false rumors of explosions and deaths caused by cell phones.

One of the eRumors describes three
occasions of fires from cell phones: A man who was burned when a cell phone sitting on a
bumper rang and caused and explosion; a man who was burned in the face while talking on
his phone as he was pumping gas; a man whose phone caused a fire in the pocket of his
pants while pumping gas.  There’s no proof that any of the stories is true.

Another oft-repeated story comes from
Adelaide, Australia where, it is said, an explosion at a gas station in 1999 was caused by
a man using a cell phone.  A spokesperson for the the South Australian Metropolitan
Fire Service says, however, there was no cell phone involved in the fire and he doesn’t
know how the rumor about the cell phone got started.  The incident was mentioned in a
1999 article in The Bankok Post, which also said that a man from Indonesia was burned when
his cell phone caused an explosion at a gas station. No substantiation has ever been

A wire service story circulated in 1999 out
of Trail, British Columbia that said a man caught fire when the cell phone he was using
caused an explosion while he filled his gas tank at a gas station.  It caused quite a
stir in Canada, but was later declared an urban legend.

Cell phone makers including Motorola and
Nokia have included warnings about not using cell phones around gas vapors.  In
August of 1999, David Rudd, a spokesman for Motorola, told the San Francisco Chronicle
that his company’s warning was because of the remote possibility that a dislodged battery
cause cause a spark, not because of the transmission of radio signals.  

After stories started circulating in 1999
about explosions caused by cell phones, many companies began issuing bans on cell phone
use at their gas stations including Chevron, Union 76, Circle K, Shell, Petro-Canada,
Esso, and Exxon.  Portable phones have been banned at gas stations in parts of Europe
for many years, but Nokia spokesperson Megan Matthews told the Associated press on Jan 14,
1999 that those rules were from a bygone era when portable phones were more powerful than
modern phones and that the bans were rarely enforced.

The whole article can be seen on www.truthorfiction.com

I can only apologise, as with all other content on Hints
and Things, information is posted in good faith.




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