Gas stations across the United States are considered essential and remain open during the coronavirus crisis.
But gas pumps and keypads like other public use areas — escalator rails, shopping carts, mailboxes and ATM machines — often have high levels of contamination.
According to a report by the maker of Kleenex, Kimberly-Clark, 71 percent of gas pump handles have high levels of contamination. The study was done in 2011, but the coronavirus has quickly rekindled concerns.
But are the concerns warranted?
While viruses and bacteria are not the same, virus contamination on public surfaces is a problem in a pandemic.
John Eichberger, executive director of the nonprofit Fuels Institute, says gas station owners and operators are doing what they can to combat the spread of COVID-19 by cleaning their facilities more often. But that might not be enough assurance for some motorists.
“If consumers are really worried about touching a gas pump handle, they can do what they do when they go to a grocery store and wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes when they need to touch something,” said Eichberger in an online article on Consumer Reports.
A recent collaborative study by the National Institutes of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control, and multiple universities compared the novel coronavirus with SARS-CoV-1. It’s the most closely related human coronavirus and the virus responsible for the 2003 epidemic.
The study found the coronavirus could survive for as long as 72 hours (three days) on stainless steel and plastic surfaces, both are used for gas pumps.
Some gas stations are taking preventative measures, such as offering plastic gloves and sanitizing wipes.
In the Kimberly-Clark test, hygienists swabbed hundreds of surfaces in six US cities. Gas pumps were the filthiest locations.
More alarming: Gas-pump handles have 11,000 times more bacteria than the common household toilet seat, according to a study conducted by Busbud.com, a travel-by-bus website.
Electric vehicle charging stations pose some risk, but those locations don’t get exposure to the hundreds of people per day using gas pumps.
Here are some guidelines for refueling vehicles are public gas stations:
* Use disposable plastic gloves such as those found at unigloves.co.uk or a sanitized wipe, to create a barrier between your hand and the pump;
* If available, use a credit or debit card instead of cash to pay;
* Wash your hands as quickly as possible.