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Alderman proposes higher fines, more inspections for gas stations

An alderman, worried about the cost and environmental impact from spilled gasoline due to malfunctioning pumps, wants the Chicago Fire Department to inspect stations every six months, instead of once a year. | Sun-Times file photo

Southwest Side Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) is tired of going to the gas station only to pay more than he should because the automatic shut-off valve doesn’t work.

Gas that spills out onto motorists, their vehicles and the ground is a potential fire and environmental hazard — and costs consumers more, since they pay for gas they don’t need.

Now Lopez is proposing a solution to a problem that, according to his own survey, could impact up to a third of all gas stations in Chicago: more frequent inspections.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Lopez introduced an ordinance requiring the Chicago Fire Department to inspect gas stations every six months, instead of once a year.

In addition, Lopez wants to quintuple — from $500 to $2,500 — the fines for violating existing regulations, including the requirement that states: “Automatic hose nozzle valves with latch open devices shall not be permitted unless equipped with an automatic shut-off device to stop the flow of gasoline when the valve is released from a fill opening or upon impact with pavement.”

“If those are not functioning properly, you can have situations where you have four, five, six gallons of gas spilled out onto the ground. It’ll shoot all over the equipment, all over the person’s car, all over the ground possibly leaking into our water supply through our sewers. That is not a safe situation,” Lopez said.

“The only way to guarantee that consumers aren’t getting screwed over by having fuel spilled outside of their vehicle beyond what they’re trying to purchase is to ensure that the automatic shut-off valves are functioning and that, when someone’s car is full, the hose automatically will stop.”

Lopez said he asked one station attendant what happens if the shut-off valve fails.

The attendant pointed to the rules on the wall: “If you want to make sure it works right, stand by your car.”

“That’s not what the law says. The law says that gas stations are required to have automatic shut-off valves so we don’t have fuel leaks. So we don’t have environmental issues. If we’re not sending the message that this is something we’re taking seriously, no one will ever get the message that this is a hazard — not only to consumers but to the environment,” he said.

Lopez acknowledged that “in a perfect world, gas stations would voluntarily offer refunds for spilled gas.” But his own personal experience shows that’s not happening.

“Out of the 30 gas stations that I’ve seen on the Southwest Side of Chicago, at least 10 of them have had hoses that do not have functional auto shut-offs” and refunds were never offered, the alderman said.

“There’s a whole bunch of issues that can be resolved simply if gas stations had functional equipment and were routinely inspected to ensure that they didn’t have the opportunity to go six, eight ten months without having proper working equipment.”