Air Pollution

New Approach Needed to Resolve Safety Issue for Vapor Recovery Systems Gao ID: RCED-91-171 June 28, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) actions to resolve safety issues associated with vehicle-based (onboard) vapor recovery systems.

GAO found that: (1) about 11 percent of the 5.1 million metric tons of hydrocarbon emissions attributable to motor vehicles annually come from gasoline vapors that escape into the atmosphere when vehicles are refuelled; (2) EPA believes that onboard systems, which capture refuelling vapors in the vehicle's fuel system, will be safe and pose no additional risk to motorists, and envisions gasoline-station-based, or stage II, technology as an interim step until onboard systems can be phased in; (3) NHTSA believes that stage II technology is a better alternative and maintains that onboard systems could compromise motor vehicle safety by increasing the risk of fuel spillage and fires; (4) lack of a coordinated approach between EPA and NHTSA has delayed resolution of the onboard safety issue; (5) as of June 1991, or 5 months prior to a mandated deadline, the two agencies were far from agreeing on NHTSA concerns about the safety of onboard systems; (6) NHTSA believes it cannot fully assess or quantify the safety risk of onboard systems until it has performance data from consumer experiences with vehicles with such systems, but automobile manufacturers said they needed an onboard regulation to set design criteria and test procedures to complete onboard development efforts; (7) the alternative fuels the government will promote over the next several years could pose safety problems similar to those generated by onboard systems; and (8) EPA and NHTSA need to develop an approach that identifies each agency's roles and responsibilities, the test data and analysis needed to address safety concerns, and the time frames for completing this analysis.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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