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Self-service gas stations across Japan are exploding with problems

"Some people don't know just how dangerous self-service gas stations can be. We want
to enlighten people on how self-service stations can be used safely."
-- Japanese service station operator

Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
February 27, 2003

Self-service gasoline stations have sparked a boom in Japan. But for some unfortunate drivers that choose to pump their own gas it has created an alarming by-product. It's a boom that is caused by static electricity!

Government officials are urging self-service station users to be careful when filling their tanks as static electricity and vaporization of flammable gasoline fumes have caused several accidents. Women, in particular, have been warned to watch out as they have been involved in most of the incidents so far.

Oil companies, consumer groups, automakers and fire departments have also got in on the act, coming up with a number of ways to make sure pumping gas doesn't spell disaster for the driver.

"Some people don't know just how dangerous self-service gas stations can be," a service station operator told the Mainichi. "We want to enlighten people on how self-service stations can be used safely."

In 2001 there were only 422 self service gas stations in Japan. By the end of 2002 that number had increased to 1,351. Most self service gas stations are located in cities.

Fire and Disaster Management Agency officials said that they had received reports of seven fires that have broken out at self-service stations across Japan within the past yearl. One could have been potentially deadly.

A woman in Kobe got out of the front passenger seat of a car and opened the lid of the vehicle's gas tank only to be greeted by a small blast and tongue of flame. Fortunately for the woman, a quick thinking station employee carrying a fire extinguisher was walking nearby and he promptly quenched the blaze. The woman escaped with light burns, but the fire could easily have spread into the car's fuel tank, or even worse, into the station's fuel pumps.

Static electricity builds up easily in many types of women's clothes. Depending on what's being worn, static electricity built up by drivers could create sparks that set off blazes of huge proportions at gasoline stations, according to agency officials.

Oil companies are also doing their part to alleviate fears of danger at self-service stations. The Petroleum Association of Japan, recently supplied self-service stations across Japan with vulcanized rubber mats that counter static electricity. Stations are being urged to place the mats near gas pumps.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) is urging its member companies to make gas tank caps out of rubber instead of metal to insulate them against the potential fire hazards. JAMA has also issued a warning to drivers to be wary at all times when using self-service stations, pointing out that while the greatest risk of static electricity comes during Japan's dry winters, gas fumes immolate easiest during the hot summer when temperatures remain high on a regular basis.

Self-service station operators, meanwhile, have posted signs on pumps warning drivers about the dangers of static electricity and asking them to stand on the rubber mats before they open their gas tanks.

Agency officials say they plan to do what they can to make sure self-service stations are safe.

"We foresee static electricity causing more problems at self-service stations in the future," an agency spokesman says. "Because self-service stations have been authorized by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, we plan to strictly enforce guidelines and strive to make sure people know how to use them in a secure manner."



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