To Gas Up Or Not To Gas Up   2 comments

I grew up seeing a warning on gas pumps that pregnant women should not pump gas. And I took a human exposures class in grad school where I learned how significant the benzene exposure can be at a gas station. (For all intents and purposes, benzene is the primary constituent of concern in the soup that is gasoline.) So now that I’m looking at possible pregnancy, I have a decision to make regarding whether I pump gas or have my husband do it.

During the last few years, knowing that this question would come I looked for that warning again and didn’t find it. The state of California does require vapor recovery systems that apparently do a good job since I rarely detect a petroleum hydrocarbon odor when gassing up any more. I thought maybe the warning disappeared in this state because the vapor recovery systems are considered good enough. But on our trip back to New Mexico, I looked at the pumps in Arizona and New Mexico (neither of which require vapor recovery systems) and did not see the warning for pregnant women. On the internet the issue appears to be very mixed with some medical websites not mentioning the issue or saying it’s fine and others advising that pregnant women not pump gas.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think I’ve worked out something that I can live with. But there has been one big looming question: does the vapor recovery system reduce the concentration of benzene (and other constituents of concern) to a level that makes the risk vs. benefits spectrum tilt towards benefits? In other words, do these systems reduce the exposure to a point where the increased risk to the fetus is overtaken by the difficulty/inconvenience of not being able to refuel when needed? Just because I can no longer detect petroleum odor with my nose does not mean that it is not there. This is the kind of question that should elicit a trip to a university library to search the medical journals, but I’m lazy and just looking for what I can access on my computer at home. I found a few references, including a study published in EHP. Interestingly that study did not find a difference in the exposure with or without EVR, however the percent non-detect was higher with EVR. The study was also an occupational study looking at service station workers and not customers.

So what to do? I think that I will continue to gas up my own car unless it is convenient for my husband to do it. I’m not going to make him come to my office after work, drive my car to the gas station, and fuel it up for me; but if we are in the car together I’ll ask him to do the actual pumping while I wait in the car. I have always breathed as shallow as possible while pumping, but I’ll try to also pay attention to wind direction and stand upwind of the pumps. And even when it is cold or raining, I’ll make a more concerted effort to open my windows and ventilate the car after leaving a service station (and having a particularly smoggy car drive by me).

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Posted January 1, 2011 by mayakey in environment, health, pregnancy

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2 responses to “To Gas Up Or Not To Gas Up

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  1. I love love all your quirks, but seriously dude, pregnant women, myself included, fill up their own cars all the time…I don’t think the risk is great enough to waste brain power worrying about it, love. šŸ™‚ But I know you do so …

    • The risk from a quick gas stop is negligible, sure. But add up all of the gas stops, and the exposure risk from the offgassing in the car, printer toner at work, formaldehyde from furniture at work, offgassing from building materials like plywood at home, etc. It’s a cumulative concern, and every little bit counts. Just because we take certain risks without being concerned about them, doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a risk.

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