As the summer heat continues, concerns over the coronavirus have spread to a fear that hand sanitiser kept in hot cars can self-combust or even explode.
In response, fire brigades and other public service authorities have been quick to dispel the myth: hand sanitiser is NOT explosive if left in a hot car.
As Roy Wilsher, chairman of the UK’s National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), explains, “We want to reassure people that this product will not combust if left in a car - even on the hottest day. For hand sanitiser to cause a fire it would need to come into contact with a spark.”
However, he does outline some key advice on how to store hand sanitiser and its continued importance. “Hand sanitiser is very important in the fight against the spread of COVID-19; therefore, it is essential we debunk this myth. We advise people to ensure they store their hand sanitisers in vehicles safely, which includes keeping bottles closed and out of direct sunlight, such as in the glove box. This will ensure the contents do not deteriorate and means bottles cannot be magnified by the sun. Sanitiser should also be kept away from naked flame.”
It is thought that fears over hand sanitiser starting fires in cars began in America, where the scorching heat in some desert states had caused people to inaccurately surmise the dangers involved.
Consequently, the rumours spread to the UK, where the government agency NHS Property Services, issued a warning to its front-line staff about the risks of keeping sanitisers and other alcohol-based cleansers in hot cars.
Alongside a graphic image of a car with a burnt interior, the advice warned of, “… the potential fire risk in vehicles, caused by alcohol-based hand sanitiser.”
Noting that, “We have received a number of reports of hand sanitiser being the cause of fires when left in vehicles in the hot weather the UK is currently experiencing. The alcohol hand sanitiser is becoming heated resulting in flammable vapours being released. These vapours are reaching their ‘flashpoint’ and then ignite in normal air conditions, setting fire to flammable components within the car.”
This advice has now been updated, with a statement that notes, “NHS Property Services (NHSPS) received notifications from safety officers at Unison, who raised media reports from US Fire Authorities that hand sanitisers were catching fire in vehicles. … This decision to raise awareness across colleagues was made in good faith. It is now our understanding that the risks associated with hand sanitisers in vehicles only become apparent when in contact with a spark.”
The false alarm over the dangers of hand sanitiser combusting due to the heat has been met with some ridicule. As one Twitter user noted, “Laughable! 70% hand sanitiser self-ignites at 350C, petrol at 280C, paper at 233C, vehicles reach at the most 60C in 30C of sun!”
The ‘fake news’ of explosive hand sanitiser has also resulted in formal advice being issued by the fire authorities, who have listed the best way to minimise risks with hand sanitiser through proper storage.
The advice includes the following:
· The possibility of alcohol-based hand sanitiser gels causing fire in vehicles is very low.
· The alcohol in the sanitiser would need to be open to the air in order to evaporate, if the container was sealed it is unlikely that alcohol would escape into the atmosphere.
· The boiling points of the materials in hand sanitiser would need very high temperatures inside a vehicle to vaporise these common alcohol products.
· The vapours would need to reach a Lower Explosive Limit in order to form an ignitable mixture; this would result in a ‘flash’ when ignited rather than produce a sustained fire likely to ignite combustible materials.
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