Last summer and fall, decorative gel Firepots hit the news for a number of severe burn injuries—and even casualties—caused while using them. The number and severity of the injuries sparked a voluntary recall, the launching of an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and finally a mandatory recall involving nine different manufactures and 2 million units of gel fuels. Now, all of this is culminating CPSC action to more precisely regulate—or potentially ban—Firepots and gel fuels.
In December, the CPSC announced that it approved the publication of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR), the first step in a rulemaking process aimed at improving the safety of gel fuels and firepots. The CPSC’s rulemaking efforts are in response to the high number of reported serious injuries and deaths related to the use of Firepots and Gel Fuels. The CPSC states in the ANPR that as of September 30, 200 it was aware of 76 incidents just between April 2010 and September 2011, resulting in 2 deaths and at least 86 injuries, with over half of the victims requiring hospitalization.
The background information provided in the ANPR details some of the most severe burn incidents involving Firepots and Gel Fuels, describing “explosion”-like events, creating “fireballs”, when consumers tried to refill an apparently empty pot while it was actually still burning. Other incidents involved explosions while trying to light the Firepot or exploding fuel containers. When these events do happen, the gel-like characteristics of the fuel make burns to the victims particularly severe and difficult to extinguish with normal measures like “stop, drop and roll” or using water.
While these products carry labeling warning that the product is a flammability hazard, the CPSC found that “these warnings do not effectively address the hazards posed by gel fuel.” Additional warnings about proper use, when they were used, were not obvious enough, instead being buried among a list of generic warnings. And, consequences were not clearly spelled out. The packaging and marketing of gel fuels—in water bottle-like containers advertising “eco-friendly” and “non-toxic”—likewise under-emphasizes the severe risks of these products.
Those are some of the issues that the CPSC is aiming to address. The rulemaking process may culminate in the issuing of a safety standard for this class of products or, if no standard can be said to be adequate, the CPSC could ban the products entirely. As part of that process and in addition to its own investigation, the CPSC invites public comment on the rulemaking process. For this particular situation, comments will be accepted until February 27.