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-   -   Petroleum jelly is flammable? (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=26077)

snopes 19 February 2008 02:59 AM

Petroleum jelly is flammable?
 
Comment: I am an RN and I've been told that we cannot use petroleum Jelly
on a patient who is getting oxygen therapy as there is a risk of fire. I
cannot find any information on how a fire would start without a flame
source. Is it a myth? OR reality?

Jahungo 19 February 2008 03:06 AM

At least according to wikipedia, it is inflammable:
Quote:

Petrolatum is a flammable, semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons, having a melting-point usually ranging from a little below to a few degrees above 100F (37C).
I'll find a better cite soon, but it makes sense, of course, since it is a derivative of petroleum.

The wiki article cites this page by InChem, which seems reliable and says that it is "combustible" and should not be near an open flame.

Alchemy 19 February 2008 03:19 AM

Winslow, Elizabeth H. PhD, RN, FAAN; Jacobson, Ann F. PhD, RN. "Dispelling the Petroleum Jelly Myth." American Journal of Nursing Volume 98(11), November 1998, p 16RR.

Quote:

Recently, a hospital with which I have been associated removed petroleum jelly from the patient-care units to prevent its use on patients receiving oxygen. The ban was based on the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 1996 edition of its Standard for Health Care Facilities, which states, "Oil, grease, or other flammable contaminants shall not be used with oxygen equipment" (item 8-6.2.2.2), and "Flammable and combustible liquids shall not be permitted within the site of intentional expulsion" (item 8-6.2.2.3). The hospital's administration inferred that petroleum jelly presented a fire hazard. Ironically, no ban was placed on petroleum-based products such as antibiotic ointments, petroleum jelly gauze, and hand or body lotion, which are commonly used in caring for patients receiving oxygen. No problems had been reported with these products.

...

At the most recent meeting of the NFPA Technical Committee on Gas Delivery Equipment, it was proposed that the wording of 8-6.2.2.2 be changed to, "Oil, grease and other flammable substances should not be used in or on oxygen equipment." If approved, this wording will be included in the January 1999 issue of the NFPA's Standard for Health Care Facilities. The revision should help eliminate confusion over petroleum jelly, which may be considered safe for use on patients receiving oxygen, but not in or on the oxygen equipment itself.

Insensible Crier 19 February 2008 03:29 AM

I just tried setting petroleum jelly on fire using a lighter. Nothing happened. It just melts. But it may ignite in a high oxygen environment. Unfortunately I don't have one of those in my medicine cabinet.

threehead_99 19 February 2008 03:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by snopes (Post 515781)
Comment: I am an RN and I've been told that we cannot use petroleum Jelly
on a patient who is getting oxygen therapy as there is a risk of fire. I
cannot find any information on how a fire would start without a flame
source. Is it a myth? OR reality?

I don't know about petroleum jelly in particular, but it's probably like kerosene. Kerosene won't burn by itself, but if you add a wick of some sort, it will.

Also on a side note, you're also taught not to oil the brass fittings on torch sets because the oil and oxygen will spontaneously combust without a spark. That's from the American Welding Society handbooks when I was in a welding class a couple years ago.

jimmy101_again 19 February 2008 05:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by snopes (Post 515781)
Comment: I am an RN and I've been told that we cannot use petroleum Jelly
on a patient who is getting oxygen therapy as there is a risk of fire. I
cannot find any information on how a fire would start without a flame
source. Is it a myth? OR reality?

Yes, petroleum jelly will burn. But just about everything, except water and CO<sub>2</sub>, will burn. Oil burns, cotton burns, iron burns ... Add pure oxygen and stuff burns much better than it does in air. So that blanket covering the patient is a heck of a fire hazard in the pressence of pure O<sub>2</sub> and will burn explosively in pure O<sub>2</sub>. You still need an igntiion source though.

So, the RN should recognize that there are many things around the patient that will burn very nicely in an O<sub>2</sub> rich environment. They all require an ignition source.

Valitudinarius Rex 19 February 2008 06:07 PM

Here's a cool experiment from my youth:

Materials:
petroleum jelly
pyrex rod (metal rod will do but it gets hotter faster)
alcohol lamp (candle flame will do)
wooden cutting board.
clamp or tongs to hold the rod.

Dip the end of the rod in the petroleum jelly to achieve a small "dollop"

Secure the candle or lamp so the experiment takes place over the wooden cutting board. Holding the other end of the rod with the clamp, hold the rod at and incline with the MIDDLE of the rod over the flame and the "jelly end" downmost. The petroleum jelly will melt and begin to drip off the end of the rod. Some of the drops will hit the wooden surface with a tiny explosion. You may have to adjust the proximity of the flame to the jelly to produce the desired effect.

I haven't done this for thirty years or so. Planck's constant may have changed in the mean-time...

my2pence 19 February 2008 06:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by threehead_99 (Post 515823)
I don't know about petroleum jelly in particular, but it's probably like kerosene. Kerosene won't burn by itself, but if you add a wick of some sort, it will.

I've used petroleum jelly liberally applied to cotton balls as a very effective fire starter. It catches a spark almost as well as steel wool and burns for much longer.

Tootsie Plunkette 19 February 2008 06:29 PM

Quote:

Petroleum jelly is flammable?
Quote:

Originally Posted by Jahungo (Post 515789)
... it is inflammable ...

You realize you've probably hopelessly confused some people.

Alchemy 19 February 2008 06:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jimmy101_again (Post 516458)
You still need an igntiion source though.

Grease and oil and certain other materials can self-ignite in the presence of pure oxygen, which is why the NFPA considers them significantly more hazardous than other flammable materials when used with oxygen delivery systems. They will burst into flame, or explode, without an ignition source.

RobDBlackwolf 19 February 2008 08:43 PM

Quote:

So, the RN should recognize that there are many things around the patient that will burn very nicely in an O2 rich environment. They all require an ignition source.
Including the alcohol based hand sanitizer that are hopefully available in the patients room. At least in my hospital there is one in each room.

jimmy101_again 20 February 2008 08:06 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Alchemy (Post 516515)
Grease and oil and certain other materials can self-ignite in the presence of pure oxygen, which is why the NFPA considers them significantly more hazardous than other flammable materials when used with oxygen delivery systems. They will burst into flame, or explode, without an ignition source.

Actually, I believe the spec isn't "when used with oxygen delivery systems", it is "when used in oxygen delivery systems". Grease, oil etc. will not autoignite in pure O2 if everything is at atmospheric pressure and anywhere near normal room temperature. The reason you absolutely never use grease in an oxygen tank valve or regulator is because hydrocarbon plus pure oxygen at high pressure can spontaneously ignite.

Blowing pure O2 over a pool of hydrocarbon will not ignite.

The hazard of grease in the regulator is so great that the fittings for oxygen tanks won't fit on any other tank. So, it is impossible to accidently install say a propane regulator (which is often greased and may still contains some propane) onto an oxygen tank.

candy from strangers 20 February 2008 08:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Insensible Crier (Post 515813)
I just tried setting petroleum jelly on fire using a lighter. Nothing happened. It just melts. But it may ignite in a high oxygen environment. Unfortunately I don't have one of those in my medicine cabinet.


Thanks for saving me the trouble, I was just about to try that :)

MapleLeaf 21 February 2008 02:48 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by my2pence (Post 516498)
I've used petroleum jelly liberally applied to cotton balls as a very effective fire starter. It catches a spark almost as well as steel wool and burns for much longer.

Absolutely! I just got back from a retreat with a grade 8 class I was chaperoning for, and we learned all about starting fires. Vaseline on a cotton ball burns forever :)

Floater 21 February 2008 11:13 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RobDBlackwolf (Post 516748)
Including the alcohol based hand sanitizer that are hopefully available in the patients room. At least in my hospital there is one in each room.

I remember at least one case when a patient that has been washed with some such stuff has been set alight by a spark on the operating table.

Jay Tea 21 February 2008 12:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jimmy101_again (Post 516458)
Yes, petroleum jelly will burn. But just about everything, except water and CO<sub>2</sub> will burn.

Pft. You haven't seen my Mum cook...


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