The next time you pump gas, you may have to keep hold of the handle while you fill up.
On Aug. 23, the California Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) ordered about 3,000 gas stations across the state to remove latches on nozzle handles. These latches hold levers up, keeping gas pumping and leaving consumers hands free.
This mandate was issued after several incidences where customers were sprayed by gasoline due to a malfunctioning latch. These faulty latches failed to dislodge from the levers after being used to fill up with a fixed amount of gas. When the next customer pushed the grade button before inserting the nozzle into the gas tank, gasoline automatically pumped out.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB) confirmed 13 cases of malfunctioning latches, seven of which resulted in customers being sprayed with gasoline. Reports of people getting sprayed with gasoline on clothes, skin and eyes raised concerns for the OSFM.
“This is purely a public safety issue,” said Julie Hutchinson, of OSFM, on the purpose of the mandate. “We want to make sure that people don’t get hurt.”
The defective latches are part of pump systems by Vapor Systems Technologies (VST), which supply roughly one-third of gas stations in California. Gas stations and VST must work together to remove the latches from about 35,000 nozzles across the state before Oct. 15. Failure to comply by this deadline will result in the forced closing of the station.
“Everyone is frustrated with the state of California [requiring the] removal of nozzles when a vast majority of these nozzles haven’t had any malfunctions,” said Todd Sorrell, spokesperson for VST.
Many gas stations in the state share similar concerns, Sorrell said.
One issue that makes station owners wary is that customers may find ways to hold the latches up, using objects like wallets or lighters. These behaviors may potentially be more dangerous than the malfunctioning latches.
Another concern is cost. The malfunctioning latches come from new models of the nozzle, which cost about $350 per unit. In order to comply with the mandate, gas stations must replace not just the latch and nozzle, but the whole pumping system for which the new nozzle was designed. Replacing all the affected nozzles in the state will cost about $10.5 million.
Despite the state-ordered mandate, the OSFM will not help with the cost of replacement of the nozzles. That is between the gas station owners and VST, Hutchinson said.
However, Sunny Singh, manager of the Arco AMPM on Russell Boulevard, is not concerned about the cost of replacement.
“[VST is] going to replace all the nozzles pretty soon,” Singh said. “We already spent the money on the nozzles, so they’re going to give us credit for [the ones they are replacing].”
This means that customers will not be affected by heightened gas prices due to these replacements, Singh said.
This is a temporary fix. A new nozzle model from VST was approved by ARB on Thursday.
VST and ARB have been working hard to get the release latch corrected, Hutchinson said. State law requires that a latch be in place for gas handles, so there is pressure to get the new models installed at these gas stations as soon as possible.
“It depends on when the gas dispensing facility owners order the nozzles and when the company gets tooled up,” Sorrell said. “These were just certified by the state, so it’s going to take some time to manufacture the new nozzles for everyone.”
SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at email@example.com.