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Michael Fox, PhD.

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Spray Paint Puncture and Fire

A mother and her 2-year old son and 6-year old daughter went into the basement to find Halloween decorations. There was a separate room in the basement that was used for storage. That room also contained a gas-fired furnace, a gas-fired hot water heater, and a dehumidifier.

While the mother was in the process of finding the Halloween decorations, a can of spray paint was unintentionally knocked off a shelf. As it fell, it impacted something and punctured and began to spray paint all over the room and the children. The mother was in the process of getting the children out of the room when a fireball filled the room. The mother and both children were seriously burned.

In addition to having 2nd and 3rd degree burns, the children had green paint on them when they emerged from the fire. The Fire Department identified the source of fuel for the fire as the spray paint that had accidentally fallen and was punctured by the fall. The most likely ignition source was later identified as the gas-fired hot water heater.


Photo of the a Burned Leg of the 6-Year Old Girl

The accidental drop-puncture-fireball scenario is all too familiar to Chemaxx. During this investigation and over the prior years, Chemaxx has performed an extensive number of puncture tests on aerosols. Dr. Fox has published the one and only peer-reviewed scientific publication on the puncture of aerosol containers. The conclusion, backed by peer-reviewed, published, experimental data, is that the typical aerosol container manufactured in the United States is extremely easy to puncture. The video below illustrates that a fall of only 8 inches onto a dull wood pyramid can puncture an aerosol spray paint. No ordinary consumer would expect this.


Video of 8-Inch Fall onto a Dull Wood Pyramid

In other testing (not shown) a fall of only 4-inches onto the corner of an angle iron punctured an aerosol spray paint. The next video illustrates what happens when ignition sources are present at the moment an aerosol spray paint is punctured.


Fireball Video

While the Department of Transportation regulates various aspects of aerosol containers, neither the DOT nor any other governmental agency has any requirements whatsoever for the puncture resistance of aerosol containers. The aerosol companies in the United States have not demonstrated any willingness to voluntarily improve puncture resistance. In fact, the aerosol company involved in the above incident denied that an aerosol could fall and be punctured as described by the mother who testified that was exactly what had happened. Somehow, the aerosol company executives and scientists were unaware that one of their own employees had witnessed six instances of dropping and puncturing of aerosol spray paint in the course of their business.

Per the testimony of aerosol industry executives and scientists, they have never performed any puncture testing. Considering the potential consequences, this is indeed a significant admission.

There are several methods to improve the puncture-resistance of aerosol containers, including outer protective packaging and thicker container walls. However, the simplest and most economic method to improve puncture-resistance is to perform an annealing heat treatment as the final step in the formation of the steel sheet used to make the body of the aerosol. Chemaxx has made the aerosol industry aware of this process, but there has been no interest from domestic aerosol companies. See the topic of Super Can for further details.

The above case involving the mother and two children resolved about one week before trial. However, the case lasted almost 8 years due to the aerosol industry's stated legal strategy. For example, even though it was relatively obvious who the manufacturer of the spray paint was, they denied it was their product for five years. The same for the manufacturer of the 3-piece steel container. Such tactics required both time and money to overcome through scientific testing.

To illustrate the aerosol industry's legal strategy further, in the above case, the Defense Expert scenario was that the 2-year old boy, who weighed 35-lbs, pushed the aerosol against a corner of a portable dehumidifier that was in the basement, and that caused the puncture. As Dr. Fox pointed out, if true, this defense scenario meant that a 35-lb boy was capable of exerting 100-lbs of force. Dr. Fox also performed a simulation of the defense scenario showing that the aerosol does not puncture, but rather the dehumidifier moves. Just because something makes absolutely no sense doesn't mean that it won't be argued.

Dr. Fox has been investigating aerosols since 1991, and has published more peer-reviewed scientific papers on the failure mechanisms of aerosols than anyone since the invention of aerosols in the 1940's. One paper was awarded the Paper-of-the-Year Award by the ASM Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention. He is also accredited in metallurgy, failure analysis and corrosion, and has over 70 peer-reviewed publications and over 30 years experience in those fields alone. Dr. Fox has his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and is a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator with advanced training and substantial experience investigating complex industrial chemical accidents, fires and explosions as well as chemical-related consumer product accidents, fires and explosions. He is also a Certified Team Leader in OSHA Process Hazard Analysis.