The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been working to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths from gas-fired water heaters.
The Commission was briefed on the issue by CPSC staff in June of 1994. The Commission let the industry know that it wanted to see a solution to this problem, and that it was considering development of a Federal regulation that would address the problem of flammable vapor ignition in gas-fired heaters.
Prior to 1994, the Commission staff had been seeking a permanent, technical solution to the hazard of flammable vapors. Commission staff believed that this problem required not only the education of consumers about the proper use and storage of flammable liquids, but also a redesign of water heaters.
Following the June 1994 Commission meeting, industry officials informed the Commission that they were working on a technical solution -- a redesign of water heaters -- that would eliminate the ignition of flammable vapors by water heaters. Industry also expressed a willingness to work closely in voluntary cooperation with CPSC on the issue.
Giving industry the opportunity to voluntarily develop the technology necessary to achieve a permanent solution has several advantages over regulation. The voluntary approach results in manufacturers investing their own resources in developing test methodologies -- saving taxpayer dollars and making use of industry's knowledge and technical expertise about the product they manufacture.
In December, 1994, following the water heater manufacturers' offer to work with CPSC to eliminate the hazard, the Commission agreed to postpone the regulatory process. But, CPSC Chairman Ann Brown expressly stated that industry must make real progress toward a technical solution and on developing a performance standard by which the safety of any new design could be measured.
As part of the CPSC's participation with industry in the efforts to reach a technical solution to this problem, CPSC staff has been closely monitoring the development of vapor-ignition resistant water heaters by the Water Heater Joint Research and Development Consortium. Three prototypes have already been tested and performed well in flammability tests.
The industry is funding the independent development of that performance test standard. The Gas Research Institute is developing a way to test gas-fired water heaters to ensure that they will not ignite flammable vapors. A technical advisory group consisting of representatives from the gas industry, manufacturers, industry trade associations and CPSC staff, oversees this project.
The Commission has also worked with industry to educate the public on the hazard of flammable vapors. The Commission endorsed a large public information campaign launched by the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association in 1994 which included television commercials and materials designed to appeal to and inform children about the hazard. In addition, the Commission published its own information on the hazard in its home and fire safety brochures.
To reduce the hazard of flammable vapors, consumers should:
Make sure gas-fired water heaters are installed according to code requirements;
Where possible, elevate heaters 18 inches from the floor, whether installed in a basement or garage;
Never use gasoline to clean equipment or tools;
Use gasoline only as a motor fuel;
Store gasoline only in tightly sealed red containers intended for gasoline; and
Keep all flammable materials and liquids away from gas-fired water heaters.