Environmental Services Program fact sheet
Division of Environmental Quality Director: Kyra Moore
Department of Public Safety Missouri State Fire Marshal Shield

Division of Public Safety - Division of Fire Safety fact sheet

Disclaimer: The statements in this document are intended solely as guidance. This document is not intended, nor can it be relied on, to create any rights enforceable by any party in litigation. This guidance may be revised without public notice to reflect changes in law, regulation or policy.


The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Safety designed the following fact sheet to provide guidance to fire departments and emergency response personnel that may respond to releases involving ethanol and gasoline fuel blends. Rapidly rising gasoline prices and energy dependence have led to an increased interest in alternative fuels such as ethanol and gasoline fuel mixtures. The acceptance of the ethanol and gasoline fuel blend concept is expected to increase the number of ethanol plants in the Midwest. The increase in ethanol plants will naturally increase the transportation of gasoline fuel blends in Missouri and throughout the Midwest.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. Like gasoline, ethanol contains hydrogen and carbon, but ethanol also contains oxygen in its chemical structure. The addition of oxygen makes for a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline.

Properties of Ethanol and Ethanol/Gasoline Fuel Mixtures

Property Comment

Vapor density

Ethanol vapor, like gasoline vapor, is more dense than air and tends to settle in low areas. However, ethanol vapor disperses rapidly.

Solubility in water

Fuel ethanol will mix with water, but at high enough concentrations of water, the ethanol will separate from the gasoline.

Flame visibility

An ethanol/gasoline fuel blend flame is less bright than a gasoline flame but is visible in daylight.

Specific gravity

Pure ethanol and ethanol/gasoline blends are heavier than gasoline.


Ethanol and ethanol blends conduct electricity.  Gasoline, by contrast, is an electrical insulator.


Ethanol is less toxic than gasoline or methanol.  The gasoline component will be toxic to aquatic life. An ethanol release to water creates low dissolved oxygen. While toxic in high concentrations, ethanol most likely may cause a fish kill due to oxygen depletion.


Flashpoint for gasoline=-45° F, Flashpoint for pure ethanol= 55° F,

Flashpoint for E85= -20 to -4° F,

Considerations: pure ethanol(UEL=19% LEL=3.3%) and E85 (UEL=19% LEL=1.4%) have a wider range of flammability than gasoline (UEL=7.7% LEL=1.4%) and gasoline has a lower flash point

What is an ethanol/gasoline fuel blend?

In the United States ethanol is primarily produced from corn. Ethanol is denatured at the ethanol plant to prevent ingestion. The denaturing agent most often used is some type of hydrocarbon such as gasoline. Denatured ethanol may contain 2 to 15% gasoline, making it an ethanol and gasoline fuel blend.

For example, E85 contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Other blends may include E10, which contains 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, and E15, which contains 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Spills and fires involving ethanol and gasoline blends should be treated differently than traditional gasoline spills and fires.

Potential Fire Fighting Hazards

Fires involving E85 and other ethanol/gasoline blends mix readily with water and will degrade the effectiveness of fire fighting foam, which is not alcohol-resistant. Because of this, the following fire fighting measures should be considered when responding to ethanol and gasoline blend incidents.

According to the North American Emergency Response Guidebook 2012, responders should:

  • Call emergency response telephone number on shipping paper first.
  • As an immediate precautionary measure, isolate spill or leak area for at least 50 meters (150 feet) in all directions.
  • Keep unauthorized personnel away.
  • Stay upwind.
  • Keep out of low areas.
  • Ventilate closed spaces before entering.
  • Wear positive pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
  • Structural firefighters’ protective clothing will only provide limited protection.

For fires, responders should:

  • Be cautioned that these products have a very low flash point; use of water spray, when fighting fire may be inefficient.
  • For small fires, use dry chemical, CO2, water spray or alcohol-resistant foam.
  • For large fires:
    - Use water spray, fog or alcohol-resistant foam.
    - Use water spray or fog; do not use straight streams.
    - Move containers from fire area if you can do it without risk.
  • For fire involving tanks or car/trailer loads:
    - Fight fire from the maximum distance or use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles.
    - Cool containers with flooding quantities of water until well after fire is out.
    - Withdraw immediately in case of rising sound from venting safety devices or discoloration of tank.
    - Always stay away from tanks engulfed in fire.
    - For a massive fire, use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles. If this is not possible, withdraw from area and let the fire burn.

Spill or Leak Prevention

According to the North American Emergency Response Guidebook 2012, responders should:

  • ELIMINATE all ignition sources (no smoking, flares, sparks or flames in immediate area).
  • All equipment used when handling the product must be grounded.
  • Do not touch or walk through spilled material.
  • Stop leak if you can do it without risk.
  • Prevent entry in waterways, sewer, basements, or confined areas.
  • A vapor suppressing foam may be used to reduce vapors.
  • Absorb or cover with dry earth, sand or other non-combustible material and transfer to containers.
  • Use clean non-sparking tools to collect absorbed material.

Additional Guidance

  • If possible, the spill of fuel should be contained and the release stopped.
  • Pump, recover, and containerize as much free product as possible.
  • Apply sand, straw, sawdust, ground corn cobs, or commercial absorbents such as kitty litter or oil dry to absorb petroleum residues rather than wash them away with water.
  • Absorbent materials used to clean up fuel spills may be disposed of at a sanitary landfill with prior approval of the landfill operator.
  • Keep in mind, all equipment used when handling this product must be grounded.
  • Every response method has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. Specific response must be evaluated and initiated on a case-by-case basis.
  • Keep in mind that the acute toxicity of ethanol can stress and kill aquatic life, including fish. In addition, the biodegeneration of unvolatilized ethanol may lower the dissolved oxygen in water and cause secondary fish kills.

Spill Reporting Requirements

If a release of ethanol/gasoline blend occurs, the department urges the responding agency and responsible party to notify the department’s 24-hour spill line as soon as possible at 573-634-2436. Under the Oil Pollution Act ethanol fuel mixtures are considered a petroleum product. Thus, any amount of petroleum threatening a waterway or creating a sheen on a waterway is reportable. In accordance with sections 260.500 through 260.550, Revised Statutes of Missouri, commonly referred to as the “Spill Bill”, any release of petroleum in excess of 50 gallons is reportable.

Placarding/Department of Transportation Reference

At present, blends containing ethanol and gasoline may be placarded in one of the following ways:

  • Alcohols, n.o.s., 3, UN1987 - Special Provision172 allows alcohol blends containing up to 5% gasoline under this description.
  • Denatured alcohol, 3 NA1987 - Special Provision172 allows blends containing up to 5% gasoline under this description.
  • Ethanol, Ethyl Alcohol Solution, UN1170 E100 - 100% Ethanol
  • Flammable liquid, n.o.s. (ethanol gasoline), 3, UN1993 - May include varying concentrations of ethanol/gasoline.
  • Gasoline, 3, NA1203 - Authorized for gasoline mixed with not more than 20% ethanol – for U.S. shipment only.
  • 3, NA3475 (mandatory in 2010, voluntary compliance is permitted immediately) - Ethanol and gasoline mixtures, ethanol and motor spirit, and ethanol and petrol mixtures with more than 10% ethanol.

The placard should look like the following with one of the above UN and NA numbers inserted.

Department of Transportation Placard

Nothing in this document may be used to implement any enforcement action or levy any penalty unless promulgated by rule under chapter 536 or authorized by statute.

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