I was filling up Das Auto with fuel on Saturday, as the price had fallen below $1.19. Figured I better get on it before it climbs again.
Anyhoo, while pumping fuel, I noticed another motorist at the next pump filling their vehicle while talking on a cell phone. One of the gas station employees approached the fellow and stated at a high level of volume, “Sir, you are not allowed to talk on your cell phone while using the gas pumps.” The fellow complied within a few seconds. Most gas pumps have a sticker on them that says something to the effect, “Cell phone use while pumping gas could cause the pump to explode.”
The question is…how much truth is there to that statement?
Urban legends have surrounded cell phones since the early to mid Nineties, when the ubiquitous items became more affordable, reliable and therefore common.
As we know, cell phones are electronic; they generate a certain level of heat and inside have electricity generated by a battery. Some people may even have their cell phone plugged into the dash or electrical system of their vehicle, meaning the phone actually has access to a large power supply.
But how does that translate into an explosion hazard?
It doesn’t. At least, according to all available evidence.
I spend a lot of time reading stories at the snopes.com website, a site dedicated to examining urban legends, rumours and Donald Trump’s tweets to see if the story is based on truth. When it comes to cell phones blowing up gas stations, Snopes investigators looked for evidence and could find none at all. “Warnings about the dangers of using cellular phones in the presence of gasoline fumes began circulating on the Internet in 1999. Though both versions of the original Internet warning alluded to an accident in Indonesia wherein a driver was burned and his car badly damaged as a result of such an explosion, no reports ever surfaced in the news media to confirm the incident,” stated Snopes investigator Barb Mikkelson. “Moreover, nothing turned up about similar explosions in other countries. If sparks from cell phones were touching off conflagrations at gas pumps around the world, as suggested at the time, the phenomenon escaped the media’s notice.” Mikkelson noted even Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters couldn’t get a cell phone to cause a gasoline explosion.
The other urban legend (my favourite, by the way) is that long-term use of a cell phone could cause a brain tumour.
Some research seems to suggest cell phone radiation could cause a certain kind of tumour. “After evaluating several studies on the possibility of a connection between cell phones and glioma and a noncancerous brain tumour. known as acoustic neuroma, members of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, agreed that there’s limited evidence that cellphone radiation is a cancer-causing agent,” noted an article on the Mayor Clinic’s website. However the same article also states, “In one study that followed more than 420,000 cellphone users over a 20-year period, researchers found no evidence of a link between cellphones and brain tumours.”
I’m not an expert, but I do know that not all kinds of radiation cause brain tumours., or harm in general to organisms. I had an ex-girlfriend who thought standing too close to the microwave was dangerous; that ridiculous. It’s like saying listening to the radio in your car could cause tumours. Only certain wavelengths of radiation that can break molecular bonds are capable of causing tumours., or harm in general.
Judging by the number of people with cell phones though, the question must be…if they do cause harm, could they quit using one?
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.