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Insect Repellent Catches Fire

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who applied insect repellent on his arms and face on a sweltering humid day. Notwithstanding 15 minutes passing from the time of application, the repellent applied to arms and face caught fire while grilling burgers for his family. The fire led to second-degree burns over a large percentage of his upper body. He was calling to discuss his legal options.

Many people are surprised that the ingredients in many insect repellent sprays are flammable.

For example, insect repellent ingredients DEET and picaridin are not safe to use in flammable or industrial work environments that include arc welding because they are flammable. DEET and picaridin applied to clothing, not just to skin, can negate flame-resistant characteristics of clothing.

In the caller’s case, more than fifteen minutes elapsed from the time he applied the spray, yet it remained flammable.

The FDA has released a warning about using certain sprays near an open flame, such as a burning grill, campfire, bonfire, candle, lighter, or cigarette. Many sprays contain flammable ingredients, including alcohol.

Standard flammable products include spray insect repellant, sunscreen, and hairspray. I think I saw a movie once where a character sprayed one of these products close to an open flame and ended up with a blowtorch.

FDA warnings note that severe burns can even occur after applying spray sunscreen.

Whether it is insect repellent or sunscreen, the warning is to avoid coming close to a lit cigarette, a lit candle, or a grill. Catching fire can happen near an open flame or a spark.

Moreover, any spray product with ethyl alcohol is flammable.

In the caller’s case, waiting for the spray product to dry did not prevent it from catching fire. The hot and humid weather likely played a part in the product remaining flammable.

Most insect repellents carry a warning label that the product is flammable and warn the user to “keep away from heat, sparks, and flame.” ‘

If the caller ends up suing, the adequacy of the warning given will be the primary area of dispute. If the warning did not include information that even after the product appears to have dried, it can still catch fire, it likely would be inadequate.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”