July 2012

Commentary

Summer fun needs summer sense…
No doubt, most readers have read about the Massachusetts man who says he applied continuous spray Banana Boat sunscreen, stepped next to his outdoor grill and immediately caught fire last month. He suffered second degree burns to his chest, ear, back and neck.

What could very nearly have been a public relations nightmare for Banana Boat in particular, and the aerosol industry in general, has really turned out to be more of a consciousness-raising incident. The common response by both media and the public (if one believes all those emoticon-laced comments with the interesting spelling at the bottom of online news stories) seems to be less about the perceived dangers of aerosol products and more “Come on, read the label!”

Dr. James Johnson, Medical Director of the Burn Center at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa, OK told a local TV station that this might be a summer safety case of what “not to do” when near an open flame.

“I use these aerosol sunscreens, but I would not spray myself, then go by the grill or light my grill,” Dr. Johnson said.

In response to the incident, TV station KSPR out of Springfield, MO decided to perform its own test, under the guidance of a local fire department, to “see how flammable this sunscreen really is.” They bought three different aerosol brands, all which burst into flames when sprayed directly over a heat source. Assistant Fire Chief Whitney Weaver said it didn’t surprise him.

“Anything that is a constant spray is going to have…a propellant,” Weaver acknowledged, “but it’s not always flammable.”

Weaver sprayed a piece of wood, let it dry and tried to light it without success, explaining “The flammable vapor is gone and it should not catch fire.”

Debbie Mikkelson, Director of Nursing at Springfield’s Mercy Burn One Center, warned that, especially with everyday products, one can’t overlook the fine print. Both she and Weaver agreed that “this type of sunscreen is safe,” but  acknowledged it can be flammable and people often forget that fact: “You forget the warnings.”

So far, the victim says he doesn’t plan on suing Banana Boat, according to KSPR, but an online search of legal websites shows that a certain amount of legal advisers are very much recommending legal action.

Banana Boat has made a statement saying they are unaware of any other similar incidents.

“At Banana Boat, we take these matters very seriously and will begin a prompt investigation as we continue to strive to deliver products of the highest quality to our consumers,” it continued.

Will labeling of continuous sprays for 2013 warn that one shouldn’t go near an open flame immediately after application? My guess is Yes (with 2014 perhaps warning users not to spray at rabid dogs). We shall see. Will the burn victim sue? As we go to press, there is no definite answer to that. What does seem certain is that people who read of this unfortunate incident seem less likely to stop using aerosols and more likely to stop using aerosols near an open flame (like the label states). We hope you enjoy this issue, which features our annual Buyers Guide.