Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

WATCH: Should people pump gas into plastic bags during the fuel shortage?

By The Washington Post Time of article published May 13, 2021

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Meryl Kornfield

Troubling gasoline shortages plaguing the Southeast in the United States have inspired panic and, perhaps, the idea to fill plastic bags with gasoline. But the US Consumer Product Safety Commission stressed on Wednesday to any and all who would listen how that's not a great idea.

"Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline," the commission tweeted.

The CPSC warned against the dangerous reaction to fuel shortages after drivers across the Southeast have flocked to gas stations to stock up in the aftermath of a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which supplies the East Coast with nearly half of its fuel.

"We know this sounds simple, but when people get desperate they stop thinking clearly," the commission wrote in a follow-up tweet. "They take risks that can have deadly consequences. If you know someone who is thinking about bringing a container not meant for fuel to get gas, please let them know it's dangerous."

The commission's advice, seemingly obvious to many who wouldn't consider storing a highly flammable liquid in a flimsy vessel, was shared widely on Twitter, as people wondered, "seriously someone needed to be told this?"

While massive emergencies like this run on gas stations can spur hoaxes online - think the image of a shark swimming down a street shared during the aftermaths of hurricanes - people filling plastic bags with gas has happened before.

In a video captured at a Kroger gas station in December 2019, a woman wearing a white shirt and black apron can be seen double-bagging gas, as the liquid seemingly spilled out of the white plastic bags onto the ground.

The clip has resurfaced this week, gaining millions of views as some speculated panic-buying of gas would look similar to the woman with her white plastic bags.

Another moment drawing recent attention: A March 2019 photo of a car trunk stuffed with clear garbage bags filled with gasoline, according to Mexican news outlet Noticieros Televisa. The photo was reportedly taken after two men were arrested for allegedly stealing from a gas station in Huauchinango, Mexico, located about 100 miles northeast of Mexico City.

While the commission has received no reports of people filling plastic bags with gas during the shortages in the United States, that doesn't mean it is not happening, CPSC spokesman Joe Martyak said in an interview. He said the commission is aware of the video of the woman using plastic bags.

"We don't know of incidences of it happening now, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening somewhere," Martyak said. "Because the video shows you people have thought of it and done it before, it could be happening now. We want to avoid that for everyone's safety."

Gasoline can dissolve certain kinds of plastic, leading to further spillage. If the gas is exposed to a spark, it could trigger a life-threatening fire. Instead, officials recommend using a Transportation Department-approved container with a proper lid for handling flammable liquids.

In light of the commission's guidance, some people jokingly added their own reminders for other activities that seemed obvious: Don't jam forks in electrical sockets. Avoid eating Tide laundry detergent pods. Drinking bleach is not a cure for the coronavirus.

The product safety commission, which frequently shares safety tips on its Twitter account in relatable ways, wrote the pointers should not be used to "look down on others" but rather "an opportunity to reflect on safety in your own life," asking people to consider if they're following common reminders like verifying their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms work.

Experts have another tip for drivers: Don't unnecessarily rush to fill your tank.wash

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