ASTM Flame Mitigation Device Study

As portable consumer fuel containers are manufactured today, they are entirely safe when used properly. Here’s why: vapors inside the containers will not ignite unless in a situation involving manipulation, misuse, or in a carefully controlled lab environment. Any allegation to the contrary is without merit.

All portable consumer fuel containers are manufactured to meet all applicable regulations, including Congressional statutes, EPA regulations, and ASTM International (ASTM) standards. Additionally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) provides industry oversight. Yet, in an effort to ensure it is always using safe and appropriate technology, the industry continues to review new designs in conjunction with ASTM International, a recognized leader in the development of product standards. The ASTM subcommittee for portable consumer fuel containers includes representatives of the industry, consumer safety experts, plaintiff experts, and others. Representatives of the CPSC sit on the committee as well. The subcommittee retained Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to conduct an independent study of flammable hazards associated with portable consumer fuel containers. This study is ongoing.

WPI is also assessing potential flame mitigation device options and their ability to function in portable consumer fuel containers safely while meeting all current standards. The WPI research is the only study recognized by regulatory bodies for portable consumer fuel containers. At this time, the study is not complete and no final conclusions have been reached as to the safety and effectiveness of any particular flame arrester device for use in portable consumer fuel containers. As such, no flame mitigation device design has been proven to work.

Certain flame arrestor designs could have negative consequences and make the containers less safe, which would of course pose risks to consumers, even if people were using the portable consumer fuel containers properly. It has been found that some designs may impact container durability; have effects on product functionality such as filling the containers, potential spillage, pour rate and good venting; and cause other potential consequences leading to potential adverse effects to consumer safety. Additionally, materials used in any potential design need to be fuel resistant as some fuels today are highly corrosive – not just any material would work.

Despite these facts, some have suggested flame arresters be used today. To be clear, there is no flame arrester currently being marketed and sold that has been proven to safely allow a portable consumer fuel container to function properly. The industry’s goal is to provide consumers with the safest functioning method to transport gasoline. At this time, all portable consumer fuel containers meet the required standards for safety.

Over the years, numerous safety and environmental features have been voluntarily added to the containers, most significantly, child-resistant closures and environmental improvements that do not allow vapors to escape. The industry was actively involved in each of these changes, which took time to develop, assess and implement. The situation with flame mitigation devices is no different. To imply that the devices developed and tested to date should be used or have been determined to function safely and efficiently is just incorrect. It would be irresponsible and unsafe for the industry to implement use of these devices at this stage of development because they haven’t been proven to work and may actually create hazards.

Additional information on WPI’s Study

The WPI Study includes three phases:

  1. The first phase found that under typical storage conditions, gasoline vapor within a container is too rich to ignite. The phenomena of internal combustion in a portable consumer fuel container can occur only under certain extreme, laboratory-controlled conditions — including storing a small amount of gasoline at a low temperature, tilting the container at a specific angle and then exposing the gasoline to an ignition source (fire). Absent these very specific criteria, which again include placing a container directly next to fire, the study found there is no combustion.
  2. The second phase investigated the effectiveness of a variety of flame mitigation device configurations. Only a handful passed the test protocol. This phase also found that current flame arresters available in most industrial safety cans and aftermarket spouts (spouts sold separately from the containers) failed the test protocol, not passing this phase of the testing and were deemed ineffective designs for a portable consumer fuel container.
  3. Phase three is currently ongoing. The goal of this phase is to determine if there are any unintended, and potentially hazardous, consequences from the few designs that passed phase two. It has been found that some designs may impact container durability, have effects on product functionality such as filling the containers, and could cause possible adverse effects on consumer safety under proper use. These safety protocols are critical to ensuring any potential design doesn’t have negative consequences which could pose risks to consumers, even if they were properly using the products. It is critical that any flame mitigation device not create other hazards.

To imply that the devices developed and tested to date should be used or have been determined to function safely and efficiently is just incorrect. There is no flame mitigation device on the market that has been proven to be safe and effective in a portable consumer fuel container. It would be irresponsible and unsafe for the industry to implement use of these devices at this stage of development. Should a new safety standard or rule be promulgated, the industry will embrace it.