My wife Ellen and I are big fans of the Discovery Channel show MythBusters (currently shown on Australian FTA Television Monday 7:30 SBS), an interesting amalgam of science, entertainment, big booms and the just plain gross.
In one of the initial episodes hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted an experiment to see if mobile phones could cause the petrol station explosions that they've been credited with. The result was a complete failure, busting the myth. What they did find was that the likely cause was static electricity from people jumping out of the car and touching the area around the gas tank without grounding themselves first.
Well it seems that Adam and Jamie don't have quite the scientific cred to be taken seriously by legislators. Take, for instance, Connecticut state senator Andrea Stillman who decided to try and get legislation passed making it illegal to use a cellphone at a gas pump because a chain email told her so.
Luckily someone with some academic cred has stepped into the knowledge void to let us know once and for all that the whole thing is a myth. Dr Adam Burgess, of the University of Kent, found that that out of 243 petrol station fires attributed to mobiles around the world in the last 11 years, not one was caused by a handset.
"He said manufacturers' warnings not to use mobiles at petrol stations because of the risk of fire gave the idea further credence."
Once again our old pal, the meme, rears its head to make something impossible seem to be a hideous danger to us all! I'm not saying that there aren't other things you should be thinking about when using a petrol pump besides chatting on the phone, but the beat up that this has received over the years is pretty phenomenal.