The CPSC warned against this dangerous reaction to fuel shortages as drivers across the Southeast flocked to gas stations to stock up in the aftermath of a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which supplies the East Coast with nearly half of its fuel.
“We know this sounds simple, but when people get desperate they stop thinking clearly,” the commission wrote in a follow-up tweet. “They take risks that can have deadly consequences. If you know someone who is thinking about bringing a container not meant for fuel to get gas, please let them know it’s dangerous.”
Still, officials have cautioned against hoarding gas and filling car tanks, and they urge the use of approved containers only. “This is a time to be sensible and to be safe,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon.
While massive emergencies like this run on gas stations can spur hoaxes online — think the image of a shark swimming down a street shared in the aftermath of hurricanes — people filling plastic bags with gasoline has happened before.
In a video captured at a Kroger gas station in December 2019, a woman wearing a white shirt and black apron can be seen double-bagging gas, as the liquid seemingly spilled out of the white plastic bags onto the ground. The clip has resurfaced this week, gaining millions of views as some speculated that panic-buying of gas would look similar to the woman with her white plastic bags.
Another moment drawing recent attention: A March 2019 photo of a car trunk stuffed with clear garbage bags filled with gasoline, according to Mexican news outlet Noticieros Televisa. The photo was reportedly taken after two men were arrested for allegedly stealing from a gas station in Huauchinango, Mexico, about 100 miles northeast of Mexico City.
Although the CPSC has received no reports of people filling plastic bags with gas during the shortages in the United States, that doesn’t mean it is not happening, commission spokesman Joe Martyak said in an interview. He said the commission is aware of the video of the woman using plastic bags.
“We don’t know of incidences of it happening now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere,” Martyak said. “Because the video shows you people have thought of it and done it before, it could be happening now. We want to avoid that for everyone’s safety.”
Gasoline can dissolve certain kinds of plastic, leading to further spillage. If the gas is exposed to a spark, it could trigger a life-threatening fire. Officials recommend using a Transportation Department-approved container with a proper lid for handling flammable liquids.
The product safety agency, which frequently shares safety tips on its Twitter account in relatable ways, wrote that its pointers should not be used to “look down on others” but rather are “an opportunity to reflect on safety in your own life,” asking people to consider whether they’re following common reminders like verifying that their smoke and carbon monoxide alarms work.
Experts have another tip for drivers: Don’t unnecessarily rush to fill your tank.