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Palmer's Pursuit Shop

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CPSC Issues Paintball Warning

On March 24, 2004 the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a safety warning (release #04-104) regarding paintball.  The CPSC is a consumer safety watchdog organization that is a part of the US government.

The safety warning is the result of an investigation into two deaths within the last year caused by CO2 tanks separating from their valves and causing fatal injuries as the tanks launched themselves away from the paintgun, propelled by expanding gas.  In both cases the CO2 tanks unscrewed from their valves, rather than the valves unscrewing from the paintguns.  The first accident, which claimed the life of a teenager occurred in summer of 2004 and has lead to lawsuits against not only the tank manufacturer, but the dealer who sold the product as well.  The most recent of these two accidents took the life of a woman who was throwing a paintball birthday party for her son in Placerville, California.

California airsmith Glenn Palmer, owner of Palmer’s Pursuit shop had the opportunity to investigate the tank and valve from the Placerville accident.  As the equipment was subject to an ongoing government investigation, he was not allowed to touch the equipment, or remove the valve from the paintgun’s bottom-line air system adapter to determine how tightly it was stuck, or why.

According to Palmer the tank had been modified from its originally manufactured state.  An anti-siphon tube had been added to the valve so that it would draw gaseous CO2 instead of liquid when the tank was screwed all the way in to the paintgun’s ASA.  Local law enforcement told Palmer that their investigation had not identified the person responsible for the modification, as the tank and paintgun were purchased used through an Internet auction.

Palmer noted that the threads on the valve neck and tank appeared to be mechanically sound.  He also spotted no signs of thread locking compound on the valve neck.  Palmer states that historically the Department of Transportation specifications for valve installation have not required thread locking compound, but specify higher torque ratings for “dry” valve installation.  It is common practice in the paintball industry to use a thread-locking compound when installing CO2 tank valves.  This is also true for screw-in style compressed air systems, though some cradle mounted HPA systems are set up with user-removable tanks without thread locker.  These types of air systems are not unscrewed from a paintgun in normal use under pressure, greatly decreasing the risk of accidental separation. 

As an additional safety measure the necks of CO2 and most HPA regulator valves have a pressure bleed hole a short distance from the top of the threads.  The purpose of this hole is to make a noise warning the user, and vent pressure out of the tank if the valve is accidentally unscrewed while gas pressure remains.  In the Placerville accident, Palmer noted that this vent hole appeared to be blocked by some debris, possibly thread locking compound from some time earlier in the valve’s service life when it may have been attached to the tank with thread locker, likely as it was originally manufactured.

Additionally the valve or regulator necks are much longer, requiring many more turns for removal than needed to remove the valve from the paintball gun.  

Palmer summed up the situation by saying, “All indications to me are that the valve was not torqued adequately into the tank when the anti-siphon tube was installed.  In my professional opinion, whoever had the valve out of the tank last, did not re-install it properly.”
It may be tempting for some in the world of paintball to shrug off the accidents as two deaths in a sport with over 8 million participants is a better safety record than most outdoor sports can claim.  It may similarly be tempting to say it’s not paintball that was the cause; that these were compressed gas accidents, because CO2 related accidents happen in many industries including welding and restaurants.  The reality is that like most accidents, these tragedies probably could have been prevented, and if they were two more people would still be alive today.

Fortunately the CPSC has not painted a picture of paintball as unnecessarily dangerous.  Instead, it is making an effort to spread information to the public to reduce the chance of these types of accidents in the future.  

In it’s release, the CPSC included the following advice:
CPSC also recommends that people make sure that any modifications to the paintball gun or the CO2 canister are done properly.  For example, installing anti-siphon tubes involves removing and re- installing the canister valve. It is critical that the valve be re- installed with the appropriate adhesive and the proper torque. 
  • Make sure the brass or nickel-plated canister valve is securely attached to the canister, rotates with the canister, and does not unscrew from the canister. 
  • The canister assembly should unscrew from the paintball gun in about three or four full turns; if you finish the 4th full turn and the canister is not unscrewed from the gun, stop! Take it to a professional. 
  • Some people have used paint or nail polish to mark the brass valve and the CO2 canister so they can see that the valve and the canister rotate together while being removed from the gun. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is continuing to investigate both accidents.  This release marks the CPSC’s second warning concerning the sport of paintball, the first of which reported the 1998 voluntary recall of Leader goggle lenses which were distributed by Brass Eagle. 

Leaving maintenance, repair and upgrading of compressed gas systems to the hands of trained professionals, and being observant when handling those systems are the keys to keeping paintball’s safety record in good shape.

Editor’s Note: The staff of extends their condolences to and prayers for the families and friends of those who lost their lives in these unfortunate, accidents.


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