Online Program

Exploding gas tanks: A report on the public health hazard and regulatory challenges surrounding portable gasoline containers

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 3:10 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

David Egilman, MD, MPH, Department of Family Medicine, Brown University, Attleboro, MA
Jara Crear, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI
In 1992, U.S. metal container, America's leading metal jerry can producer for nearly three decades, changed its name to Blitz, U.S.A. in acknowledgement of its flagship product, the plastic blitz can. Manufactured for consumer use in 1987, and sold by Wal-Mart, the red portable gasoline container both lightened the load and cheapened the cost of gasoline storage. These benefits were mitigated by steep public health costs. In contrast to steel safety cans, plastic portable gasoline containers are incapable of controlling the flammable vapors generated by gasoline, or grounding potentially deadly sparks. Without a flame-arresting modification (a twenty-five cent item), plastic gasoline containers spontaneously generate flammable vapors prone to causing explosions near ignition sources, causing injury or death. In 1989, the Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) formed a committee to review the specifications for portable gasoline containers in response to a series of consumer deaths. The committee amended the child-proofing specifications for the containers. Blitz U.S.A., a member of the committee, opposed the addition of flame arrestors and continued to manufacture their containers without the modification. Wal-Mart played a key role in this decision. Blitz currently exports this product despite the 2009 domestic regulatory ban. We will review Blitz's and Wal-Mart's knowledge of this product safety hazard as referenced in corporate documents produced in litigation. Blitz's bankruptcy resulting from litigation caused this case study to be used to undermine the public health benefits of tort litigation. Instead, it is an example of regulatory failure and the public health benefits of tort litigation.

Learning Areas:

Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Environmental health sciences
Occupational health and safety
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe the hazards of Portable Gasoline Containers Discuss corporate knowledge the hazards of the containers, and identification of modifications to reduce hazards Discuss the corporate response to knowledge of consumer deaths and injuries Discuss the challenges encountered by Consumer Product Safety Commission in its attempt to regulate portable gasoline containers, such as scope, and time constraints Analyze the Public Health effect of these regulatory challenges Analyze the Public health effect of corporate profit maximization, and disregard for safety

Keyword(s): Consumer Protection, Consumer Rights

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: As a medical student I have objectively reviewed all documentation produced in litigation surrounding the development and history of portable gasoline containers. In addition, I have designed and am in the process of executing a label comprehension study to asses the efficacy of hazard communication of portable gasoline container warning labels.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.