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What You May Not Know About Your Red Plastic Gas Can

PHOTO: Diane Breneman, Attorney at Law
PHOTO: Diane Breneman, Attorney at Law
September 17, 2012

MADISON, Wis. - Every year, dozens of people, many of them children, are severely burned or killed when plastic gas cans explode. Attorney Diane Breneman represents several victims of such explosions, and says these tragedies could easily be prevented.

"It's a huge problem. There are millions of these cans sitting around in people's homes, and in 30 cases that we've identified, the medical bills exceed $130 million. We're all paying for that."

Industry spokesmen say it's people misusing the products or making stupid decisions. Breneman says that's not true. One of the victims is a volunteer firefighter who was refueling his chain saw; another is a pit crew member of an auto racing team, who was filling his lawn mower.

"The people who are injured by these cans never see it coming. Industry, on the other hand, they have been sued since the mid-1990s. They have had over 20 years to get this right."

Breneman says the fix is very simple: adding a 50-cent flame arrester to the can, to contain fumes while the gas is being poured.

The gas-can makers say lawsuits claiming their products are deficient are filed by greedy people and their lawyers, and insist that the products are being misused. But Breneman says the industry knows very well that gas cans are far less safe now than they were a hundred years ago.

"The first patent for a flame arrester in a gas can was 1881. By 1920 the Protectoseal Corporation in this country was selling safe cans that had flame arresters in them, and it costs somewhere between a few pennies and 50 cents to fix the problem."

All industrial-grade gas cans have had flame arresters for decades, but the industry insists they're not needed in home gas cans. Breneman says scores of safety experts disagree.

"It's not about frivolous lawsuits. It is about gross, callous corporate management in the face of the worst burn injuries you could imagine. That's what these cases are about."

Those safety experts say you should replace your plastic gas cans with ones that have flame arresters.

Check your gas can and get tips at

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI