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Butane Cigarette Lighter Explosion

Butane Cigarette Lighter Explosion




Areas of Expertise

Michael Fox, PhD.



Butane Cigarette Lighter Explosion

In June, a gentleman purchased a plastic disposable butane cigarette lighter.

Exemplar Butane Cigarette Lighter

A few days later he was seated in his automobile when the lighter, which had been sitting on the dashboard, exploded. Fragments from the exploding lighter injured the man's left eye.

Evidence Butane Cigarette Lighter

It was learned that the lighter was in the man's possession for about 2-4 days and that he had the practice of keeping the lighter on the dashboard of his car. The United States Weather Service records indicated that the maximum temperature for his location that day was 77°F. It also rained that day.

Chemaxx was asked to review the general design and concept of the butane cigarette lighter and determine if the evidence butane lighter was defective. The issues of design, materials, manufacturing, government compliance and warnings were examined.

Numerous test methods were employed including infrared spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), tensile testing, solar heating tests, hot water bath tests and controlled explosive techniques. Some of the mechanical test methods and simulated explosive test methods are proprietary and were specially developed for this project. Additionally, a proprietary database of the parameters that characterize plastic butane lighters and how they fail was developed. For example, this database includes SEM photographs of various types of fracture surfaces encountered in exploded plastic butane lighters, as seen below.

SEM Photograph of Fracture Surface
Exploded Butane Lighter

Disposable cigarette lighters are regulated under Department of Transportation. It is a DOT requirement that each lighter be capable of withstanding, without leakage or rupture, an internal pressure of at least two times the vapor pressure of the fuel at 55°C (131°F). Therefore, it was reasonable to expect such lighters to remain intact at temperatures well above 131°F.

Chemaxx concluded that the evidence butane cigarette lighter had manufacturing defects, design defects, and inadequate warnings. It also failed to meet DOT Requirements. The case settled prior to trial.

Dr. Fox is a fire expert, explosion expert and chemical expert with extensive experience in OSHA, EPA and DOT chemical regulations and chemical safety.