Nine additional manufacturers and distributors of ethanol-based pourable gel fuels like the one that critically burned Riverhead teenager Michael Hubbard on May 28 have agreed to voluntarily recall their products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today. An estimated two million units of the fuel gel will be taken off the market as a result.
The recall was made due to serious risks of flash fire and and burns when consumers add pourable gel to an already-burning fire pot, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Consumers should immediately stop using the pourable gel fuel, the federal agency warned.
The pourable gel fuel can ignite unexpectedly and splatter onto people and objects nearby when it is poured into a firepot that is still burning. CPSC is aware of 65 incidents resulting in two deaths and 34 victims who were hospitalized with second and third degree burns of the face, chest, hands, arms or legs.
Of the 65 incidents, 28 of them, including 37 burn injuries and both fatalities, occurred with fuel gel products made by Napa Home & Garden, the manufacturer of the Fire Gel fuel that blew up in Michael's face, slathering him with burning gel, causing third degree burns to 40 percent of his body. Michael's injuries resulted in organ failure and a cardiac arrest, which deprived his brain of oxygen for 13 minutes before doctors were able to resuscitate him. He suffered traumatic brain injury as a result and has not yet regained a normal cognitive state. After nearly 100 days in intensive care, it is unknown when — or if — he will recover.
After public outcry and pressure from Rep. Tim Bishop, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Dan LoSquadro, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which had initially declined to recall the Napa Fire Gel, issued a nationwide recall on June 22. Napa had already voluntarily pulled its products from store shelves a week earlier. Napa filed for bankruptcy in July.
Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine who sponsored a bill he dubbed "Michael's Law" — unanimously passed by the legislature on Aug. 16, Michael's 15th birthday — banning the sale of ethanol fuel gels like the one that injured the Riverhead boy. It awaits the signature of County Executive Steve Levy. (Levy aide Dan Aug said Thursday evening the county executive has been focusing on hurricane preparations for the past week-plus and had not yet signed the bill.)
Romaine was elated to learn of the recall.
"This product should not be on the shelves. It should not threaten any other family," said the legislator, who has known Michael's mother, Nancy Reyer of Riverhead and her family for many years. Michael's life will never be the same. The Reyer family will never be the same. What were the manufacturers thinking putting something like this out there for consumers?"
Romaine said the federal consumer protection agency was too slow to act, and too many people were seriously injured as a result.
"It shouldn't have taken three dozen injuries and two deaths before the agency charged with protecting consumers from defective products takes action," Romaine said today.
Bishop also hailed the recall.
“These harmful products have caused unnecessary pain and damage to the lives of many across the nation,” Bishop said in a joint statement issued this afternoon with Gillibrand. “The CPSC has taken the right steps to stop the sale of millions of bottles of dangerous liquid firepot fuel and must continue the push to immediately remove all of these defective products from the market before more burn accidents take place.”
Fran Reyer-Johnson, Michael's aunt, whose Riverhead backyard was the site of the Memorial Day weekend accident that critically burned the boy, was nearly speechless when informed of today's announcement.
"Wow. I never thought I would see this day," Reyer-Johnson said. She had said she had made it her "mission" to see to it that ethanol-based pourable fuel would not be sold any more.
She made phone calls, wrote letters and lobbied elected officials, but she didn't expect it to be effective.
She said she wanted to remind people that a mere recall isn't enough. "People need to get the word out, so that others don't use the recalled product and get injured or killed."
On July 3, nine days after the Napa Fire Gel was recalled by the federal consumer agency, an 84-year-old California woman was critically burned when a Napa firepot exploded in her daughter's backyard, spraying her with flaming gel that proved nearly impossible to extinguish. Her son-in-law threw her into the backyard pool to try to douse the flames, according to news reports. She died several days later.
The ethanol fuel gels, packaged in one-quart plastic bottles and one-gallon plastic jugs and sold in scented and non-scented formulations, have been sold since 2008 by the companies listed below:
Bird Brain Inc., of Ypsilanti, Mich.
Bond Manufacturing of Antioch, Calif.
Sunjel Company (2 Burn Inc.) of Milwaukee
Fuel Barons Inc. of Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Lamplight Farms Inc of Menomonee Falls, Wis.
Luminosities Inc (Windflame) of St. Paul, Minn.
Pacific Décor Ltd. of Woodinwille, Wash.
Real Flame of Racine, Wis.
Smart Solar Inc. of Oldsmar, Fla.
A similar product made of isopropyl alcohol-based fuel is not recalled. It is also not affected by the Michael's Law ban in Suffolk County. The isopropanol fuel is flammable, but not combustible, Romaine said. It does not pose the same danger, he said.