Gas-Can Loophole Blamed For Burns

We've all gotten used to the idea that certain products should be stored in child-proof containers. But that's not the case for one of the most dangerous things you can have around the house: Gasoline.

As Randy Paige, investigative reporter at CBS News Los Angeles station KCBS-TV reports, hundreds of children every year are paying the price for a legal loophole.

An emergency 9-11 call, tells Stephen Diaz's story. He went into the garage, found the gas can and was able to very easily open the top. When he accidentally spilled the gas, its vapors were ignited by the pilot light on the water heater. Stephen was standing in the middle of the fire and was burned across half of his body.

Stephen's mother, Coralina, says her little boy will have to endure a lifetime of corrective surgeries. In her view, this accident was "100 percent preventable."

Stephen Angarella, the Diaz family attorney, says, "The gas can did not have a child-proof cap."

Gasoline is one of the most dangerous substances stored in the home, but there's no law requiring child-proof caps on containers of gas.

The Poison Prevention Packaging Act, passed back in 1970, requires child-resistant caps on consumer products that contain hazardous materials. That's why you find child-proof caps on pesticides, mouthwash and even children's vitamins.

But the gasoline can manufacturers argue that federal law does not apply to them, because their product is an empty can. Even though the word "Gasoline" is emblazoned on the side of the can, it does not need a child-proof cap because it is empty.

Angarella says, "It's basically a loophole in the law that has been found by manufacturers of gasoline cans."

And the loophole has been allowed by federal regulators at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The results, Angarella says, speak for themselves.

In Kansas City, 3-year-old Nicholas Kyle poured gas over his tricycle and was burned over a third of his body. In Illinois, Justin Misner nearly died after pouring gas over his battery-operated jeep. In Ohio, 2-year-old Jyon Johnson was badly burned, and just last month in Spokane, Wash., Brian Ashmore and Alex Brown were badly burned after pouring gas down a back-yard slide.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's latest figure shows at least 19 children burned to death over the past decade. More than 1,200 kids were sent to emergency rooms in one year alone. And the CPSC estimates there are nearly 80 million gas cans in households across the nation.

Paige went to CPSC headquarters in Bethesda, Md., to find out why the CPSC is allowing gas can manufacturers to sell containers without child-proof caps. Regulators there refused to grant on-camera interviews.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, says, "They're not going to do anything, and they don't want to be embarrassed about it."

A former federal regulator, she says, "Public Citizen right now calls for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to move immediately for a standard, a minimum federal standard that does not allow these gas cans to be manufactured without child-proof caps. They should be put in jail for not doing this, both the manufacturers and the CPSC, or fired."