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Are Cell Phones Likely to Ignite at Gas Pumps?

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on May 24, 2016 3:58 PM

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a warning to cell phone users ... but it's based on rumors. The agency said that it has received alerts and heard accounts circulating of cell phone batteries sparking and starting fires at gas stations.

There are no confirmed reports, and the agency warns that the possibility of a phone actually catching on fire at a gas station is very remote. The FCC believes that the rumors about the fires are based on warnings posted at gas stations and on text in phone user manuals.

Nothing to Report

Although the FCC says that it knows of no actual fires happening this way, its warning conveys the substance of the stories that are circulating about this issue. The FCC writes:

One of the rumors circulating describes incidents where consumers are injured by fires or explosions when they use their cell phones at gas stations. In these stories, a fire was reportedly ignited or an explosion occurred when an individual answered a ringing cell phone. Supposedly, an electrical spark from the phone ignited a fire or caused an explosion.

If the agency sounds skeptical that's because it is. The FCC states that the wireless phone industry has done studies on sparks from a cell phone battery igniting a fire and found that it "may be theoretically possible for a spark from a cell phone battery to ignite gas vapor under very precise conditions." But there are no known incidents, meaning the threat remains theoretical.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Although the FCC did feel it was important to address the rumors with this warning, it does not sound particularly alarmed about what it has heard. It noted that cell phone manufacturers do instruct all users to check the manual and the FCC said that users should to follow all guidance at gas stations. But these are just precautionary measures.

Do be careful about using your phone, though. Even if it doesn't ignite in flames at a gas station you still need to be paying attention. Still, as to the sparking batteries you can rest assured. The FCC concludes, "Scientific testing ... has not established a dangerous link between wireless phones and fuel vapors."

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