Safety and Trial Lawyers:
Forgotten Issues in 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA)
by Mike Colburn
ESD Journal Note:
We have stated that one of the issues of concern with the increase
in static ignited auto refueling fires is the changes in gasoline
mixtures. Mike Colburn
discusses these issues.
Since the implementation
of the 1990 CAA started in widespread use in 1995 we have seen
the following listed problems and one significantly forgotten
Oxygenate Wars; The battle between the American oil industry and
the American farmer AKA The Ethanol industry. MTBE and Ethanol
issues are using up our legislators valuable time arguing over
who can clean the air and stretch our energy supply.
The Ethanol Industry claims that MTBE has seriously damaged our
underground water tables. The Oil Industry claims that ethanol
will significantly increase the cost of gasoline at the pump.
Arguments and accusations are abundant on both sides, politicians
are in the middle and the public is confused.
While everyone is claiming to be concerned about our Air and Water
Quality, it is becoming more and more obvious that this is about
Money and Power and has nothing to do with environmental issues.
issue in this whole argument has been safety. While water quality and
air quality are very important, there is a little talked about
phenomenon going on across this country and it has been increasing
significantly since 1995. Refueling fires, when motorists refuel
their vehicles they are getting burned and or killed. This is
not to mention the property damage to the gas stations or vehicles.
The Petroleum Equipment Institute http://www.pei.org The American Petroleum Institute
http://www.api.org and Fowler
and Associates http://www.esdjournal.com/static/refuelfr.htm all have been investigating these incidents.
They have correctly pointed out one cause in that occurs in the
Fall, Winter and Spring, that is when the consumer pulls into
the gas station on a cold dry day, the customer gets out of their
vehicle goes to the pump inserts the nozzle and locks it in on
automatic. The customer because it’s cold goes back and gets in
their nice warm and cozy vehicle not realizing that the carpets,
seats and other components in their vehicles are made from insulting
products that when contacted charge up their person. When they
hear the automatic nozzle shut off engage, they then get out of
the vehicle and not realizing that a vapor cloud made from (VOC’s,
AKA Volatile Organic compounds) has developed around the nozzle
and the filler opening of the vehicle as they reach thru this
vapor cloud their body discharges the accumulated voltage via
a spark and presto we have a flash flame, these incidents have
resulted in significant injury, death and property damage. I keep
wondering how catastrophic this has to get before we can get more
attention focused on this problem? What could happen if an incident
like this occurs when a gasoline tanker truck is dropping a load
to the gas station? There are other possible reasons for these
incidents, I will list them below;
To create a fire or explosion you need three things
a Fuel Source
need to examine these sources and how to eliminate one or more
of these sources and eliminate the problem.
Fuel: Motor Gasoline Refiners are regulated by US EPA , CARB and
other various state agencies. This was mandated by the Clean Air
Act amendments of 1990. They blend their fuels for season-to-season
use and attainment vs non-attainment areas. During the summer
one major control of the fuel is RVP, in summer fuel the RVP is
capped. This keeps VOC’s (Volatile organic Compounds, vapor) to
a minimum. Along with reducing smog this also improves safety
when refueling the vehicle. In March 1988 the “Center for Automotive
Safety”(CAS) published a well documented report called: “Stopping Vehicle Fires & Reducing Evaporative
Emissions: THE NEED TO CONTROL GASOLINE & ALCOHOL BLEND VOLATILITY”.
This document reports on many of the problems created by
gasoline & alcohol blended fuels. In short it notes that in
the late 1970’s and up to 1988 (When the document was published)
that gasoline & alcohol blended fuels were responsible many
injuries and deaths caused by gasoline & alcohol blended fuels.
It also notes many problems created in automotive fuel systems
by these same gasoline & alcohol blended fuels. It called
for reducing RVP of summer time blended fuel. In those years summertime
fuel RVP varied between 9 and 11.5 pounds. I am sure the information
in this document was used when the CAA of 1990 was created. It
is interesting to note that when refiners raise the RVP of fuel
they increase it by adding these very profitable pentanes and
butanes. Today these products improve the cold start and wintertime
performance of fall, winter and spring gasoline blends. When ethanol
is added to these fuels the resultant RVP is even higher, thus
increasing escaping VOC’s (Increasing the refueling hazards, fuel
source) when vehicles are being refueled in those cooler seasons.
Wintertime fuel RVP varies between 9 pounds and 15 pounds depending
the particular area. It does not appear that there is a solid
cap on RVP other than summertime season. Reducing and capping
wintertime RVP could significantly reduce escaping VOC’s; this
action would reduce the hazards of refueling a vehicle in off
summer seasons as well as improving the environment. PROBLEM:
It has been said the problem with this possible solution is that
this is when the refiners sell their very profitable pentanes
and butanes. It is also worth noting that certain areas use ethanol
for the same purposes, this also needs to be addressed.
Cold air is denser in the fall, winter and spring. It is not possible
to eliminate this component from the fire and explosion equation.
It does need to be noted here though that Vapor Recovery Systems
while a good idea are not the panacea/answer one might think they
Spark Source: It is interesting to note that in the 1980’s congress
mandated CAFÉ Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards/regulations
on the Automotive Manufacturers. It is not often pointed out,
but the automotive industry has done absolutely heroic work in
this area. They have complied in virtually all areas. This has
been good for America on all levels. The technological strides
made by the automotive industry have brought a certain set of
problems though; with the advent of modern day engine management
came better fuel economy, better performance and better air quality.
Part of these gains came from weight reductions in all areas.
This was done through the use of composites, plastics and light
metal components in many areas of the vehicle. This was done in
the construction of automotive interiors where the use of insulating
products used in the manufacture of seats, carpets and other components
that improve the quality of today’s cars. This is especially true
with the fuel supply and delivery systems as well. Today’s modern
fuel system ie; Fuel Injection requires higher fuel pressures
and fuel volumes. It is an interesting note that in the recent
cases of reported refueling fires there are no incidents reported
in vehicles older than mid to late 1980’s vintage. It is also
interesting to note that the automotive industry is not recognized
as a stakeholder in the issue of fuel formulations. It is also
interesting to note that US EPA requires the automotive industry
to certify their products with “Indolene” a test fuel. This fuel
is not formulated with oxygenates (except in California) where
California requires it’s own testing of Detroit manufactured vehicles
to make sure they comply with California standards and regulations.
One point further with the advent of the CAA of 1990 and a point
very worthy of noting. The vehicles that automotive industry certifies
with “Indolene” are then shipped out and sold to the American
consumer who uses one of a reported 90 different boutique fuels
to fuel their vehicles. This is where the problems begin. There
are many available reports with respect to how ethanol blended
fuels permeate and reduce the effectiveness of components in today’s
modern day fuel supply and delivery systems. What may be missing
here is a cooperative effort between Detroit and US EPA with respect
to fuel formulation and it’s effects on modern day fuel systems.
In today’s very sophisticated fuel system it may be that one component
rendered ineffective by ethanol E-10 or another type fuel could
have catastrophic consequences to the owner/user of the vehicle?
See Refueling fire reports. Also refer to Center for Automotive
Safety Report referred to early in this paper. They report on
many damaged fuel system components.
Over all problems, It seems that the only one’s benefiting from
these safety problems are the Trial Lawyers. The Automotive Industry
and the Oil Industry have been lacking in their efforts to address
the safety issues represented here. This may be because they have
found working with US EPA over the past 8 to 10 years has been
an effort in futility. Questions need to be asked here.
Possible Solutions: A cooperative joint effort be created between
all the stakeholders automotive industry, Oil Industry, US EPA,
DOE, DOT and all other stakeholders to reform the CAA of 1990
using science and common sense. A set of solutions developed here
could benefit all Americans in the following ways.
A cleaner environment.
Better fuel economy.
Lower energy costs.
Better profits for the energy producers.
Politicians spending more time working on things that really matter.
Better vehicle technologies and profits for Detroit.
Fewer Trial Lawyers.
A larger more efficient and abundant supply of energy.
More Freedom for all Americans.
is absolutely doable.
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