Dangers of Gas Powered Refrigerators

Posted by John Sedgewick - 25/11/10 at 05:11 pm

Danger in Refrigerators Powered by Propane, LP Gas or Natural Gas

Gas powered refrigerators have been in use since at least the 1930s. They are particularly suited for use in places where the electrical grid does not run, such as fishing, hunting and logging camps.  Partly because they are used in remote locations and partly because of the defective design of flues, vents and burners in certain models, gas refrigerators should be considered to be extremely dangerous.

Gas refrigerators can be fueled by natural gas (which is usually mostly methane mixed with other combustible gases), or LP (liquified petroleum) gas, the most common of which is propane. The danger in all of these fuels lies in incomplete combustion, which occurs when either the flow of intake air or the venting of exhaust becomes disrupted. Either problem, or a combination of both, can result in the discharge of carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless and deadly poison.

Sellers of gas refrigerators and government regulators have known for many years that gas refrigerators are prone to vent problems and thus very dangerous. Set out below is a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission describing particular problems with certain Servel models which have caused many brain injuries and deaths through release of carbon monoxide.

The Servel models described below is just one of many dangerous gas refrigerators.  Several older models from other makers present the same risks to health and safety.  For instance, there have been a number of reported injuries and deaths from carbon monoxide involving the Consul models manufactured by Whirlpool S.A.

Gas refrigerators are most common in remote camps because compressed gas is the easiest fuel to transport into the woods. The remote setting of these camps contributes to the danger of the refrigerators in the sense that they are often used only seasonally. People do not think to service appliances that are used only intermittently, it is expensive and inconvenient to get service personnel in, and long periods of disuse in an environment which goes from extremely hot to extremely cold, and which is often damp, leads to rust, corrosion, dust, cobwebs, and insect nesting. All of these contaminants disrupt air flow and damage burner and vent components, leading to carbon monoxide production.

If you have a gas refrigerator,  you should consider whether it is safe to continue to use it. Service may help eliminate or minimize the risk of serious injury, but that might not be enough.

If you or someone you love has been injured by a gas refrigerator or other gas appliance, you should call Berman and Simmons or another law firm with experience with such cases. We have  handled asphyxiation cases associated with many home appliances in addition to refrigerators, including cook stoves, furnaces and space heaters.

We have also represented many families injured bya different risk associated with LP, propane and natural gas:  explosions.  If a pilot light or other component fails,  or if the seller/delivery person fails to properly test for leaks in the gas distribution system, gas can leak into the living space and lead to catastrophic burns and death.  Visit our website and other entries in this blog for  further information and commentary.

John Sedgewick, Esq.

Berman and Simmons

1 800 244 3576


U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Office of Information and Public Affairs

Washington, DC 20207

July 22, 1998
Release # 98-145

Company Phone Number: (800) 782-7431
CPSC Consumer Hotline: (800) 638-2772
CPSC Media Contact: Ken Giles, (301) 504-7052

1. CPSC, Warns That Old Servel Gas Refrigerators Still In Use Can Be Deadly

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Government safety experts continue to warn consumers to stop using Servel gas refrigerators manufactured between 1933 and 1957 due to the risk of carbon monoxide leakage in deadly quantities.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports there have been at least 39 incidents in the U.S. involving these old Servel gas refrigerators, causing 22 carbon monoxide-related deaths and 55 injuries nationwide. There also have been incidents reported in Ontario, Canada, causing 60 deaths.

Because historical sales and distribution records of these early Servel models are unavailable, it is not possible to determine who still owns and uses these refrigerators. The Servels continue to be used in hunting cabins, vacation cottages and remote areas of the nation where there is no electricity, or where gas is the preferred energy source.

Over a period of time, especially if the refrigerator has not been used recently, the gas burner can be fouled by dust, dirt, rust or other obstructions. Any gas refrigerator with an improperly adjusted or partially plugged burner can produce substantial amounts of carbon monoxide.

Consumers can call the Servel Corrective Action Committee (SCAC) toll free at (800) 782-7431 anytime to receive a rebate package that includes instructions for disposing of their Servel gas refrigerator. Consumers who properly dispose of their old Servels will receive a $100 rebate plus reimbursement for reasonable disposal costs.

Since this recall program was launched in 1990, more than 22,000 refrigerators have been destroyed. On average, 100 new requests for rebates are mailed to SCAC monthly, demonstrating that there are still many more in use.

Consumers who insist on keeping their old Servel refrigerators should move them to an outdoor shelter, shed or garage not connected to the house or cottage. CPSC urges owners to secure or restrict access to refrigerators kept outside and, when discarding any refrigerator, to remove its door. This will prevent children from playing in the refrigerator and possibly getting trapped and suffocating inside.

CPSC advises that all gas refrigerators be serviced regularly by licensed technicians in order to assure their safe operation. They also should be inspected after they are moved and before they are turned on after a seasonal shutdown. Special attention should be paid to blockages in burners and flues.

No longer in business, Servel manufactured gas refrigerators between 1933 and 1957. The Servel refrigerators in question are no longer being produced and are in no way associated with the Dometic Corp., the current manufacturer of Servel brand name products.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. The CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed significantly to the decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call CPSC’s Hotline at (800) 638-2772 or CPSC’s teletypewriter at (301) 595-7054. To join a CPSC e-mail subscription list, please go to https://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. Consumers can obtain recall and general safety information by logging on to CPSC’s Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

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