(Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure
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Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
(Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure on 10/28/2009 22:55:34 MDT Print View

I've got a Steripen (entry-level, standard model) that failed me on a recent trip, failing to light up after the first three liters on the first night out.

Along with failing to light up it flashed the three red, one green code, meaning it was broken.

A close look at the unit revealed what looks like several tiny beads of mercury within the inner tube of the lighting unit. I took a look at the literature and the Steripen does indeed house mercury in its workings, though I don't think they are supposed to be within the visible portion of the lighting unit.

Has this happened to anyone else?

Does anyone know if this is dangerous, or could have been dangerous prior to the unit failing completely? I suspect the drops were there prior to complete failure and wonder if any mercury could have made it into my water.

I plan to take it up with the manufacturer as a warranty issue, but wonder if I should pursue a replacement or ditch it completely as a dangerous product.

Any thoughts, advice, etc. welcome.

Jeff Antig
(Antig)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: (Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure on 10/28/2009 23:01:14 MDT Print View

"Any thoughts, advice, etc. welcome."

Contact them...lawsuit.

Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Re: (Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure on 10/29/2009 01:02:30 MDT Print View

Unless you have broken both the inner and outer tube, the mercury is probably contained. Besides, metallic mercury is much less poisonous than in gaseous form or when formed into a compound with other elements:
Wikipedia article on mercury poisoning

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: (Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure on 10/29/2009 01:20:32 MDT Print View

Hi Josh

> it flashed the three red, one green code, meaning it was broken
If you think it is broken, return to the vendor for exchange under warranty. Btw, I am not personally familiar with that code, and have no idea what it means.

Fwiiw, Steripen are very keen to support their customers and want to see any suspect devices.

> several tiny beads of mercury within the inner tube of the lighting unit
This is a low pressure mercury discharge lamp, designed to emit UV-C radiation. The mercury HAS to be there to create the UV. It is encased in a double quartz envelope for safety. So what you have observed is correct.

> wonder if any mercury could have made it into my water.
If the double quartz envelop is intact, then there is NO chance of leakage.

I have been using one for years very happily. I use either brand-name CR123 batteries (ie NOT cheap ones) or the blue Tenergy rechargeables (NOT the silver ones).

We do have a review of the Steripen here at BPL.

Cheers

Edited by rcaffin on 10/29/2009 01:21:33 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: (Possibly dangerous) Steripen Failure on 10/29/2009 08:47:24 MDT Print View

Yeah, but did it catch on fire like Dicentra's, borrowed from our friend The_Turtle's, new one did? Gah, that thing stunk so bad. Second time turned on it went from fine to red hot in less than a minute.

Having had a failure with an earlier model I am now officially bummed and done with them. I really WANTED this item to work. It is cool, useful...but now way will I ever trust it again.

Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
Thanks for input on 10/29/2009 11:40:21 MDT Print View

Thanks for the input everyone.

Roger, thanks for your knowledge about the inner workings of the device. Sounds like my health is likely unscathed. I'll contact them for a new device. I've really liked the Steripen up to now - lighting up quite a bit of water with it on a couple continents.

It has proved a bit fussy on occasion, however - on one trip to Laos it seemed to favor certain party members over others. Good thing we had enough people along so we weren't too badly put by the thing's fickle affections. (It refused to work for me most of that trip.) Maybe it was beginnning to fail at that time.

According to the Steripen Classic booklet, 3 red, one green means "lamp failure", while "UV lamp emits no visible blue light" means "lamp failure, follow warranty procedure".

I guess I should be pleased it didn't spontaneously combust and gasify the mercury.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
User error on 10/29/2009 12:21:29 MDT Print View

One of my backpacking buddies uses a steripen. He had the hardest time at first, couldn't get the light to consistently light. Turned out to be user error. You have to have the contacts in the water when you push the button or it won't light. After he followed the proper procedure it has worked every time.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: User error on 10/29/2009 13:17:32 MDT Print View

"You have to have the contacts in the water when you push the button or it won't light. After he followed the proper procedure it has worked every time."

Might depend on the model, but this is not true for the Adventurer. You push the button, and then you have a certain amount of time (I think it's 10 seconds but I'm not sure) to get the light and contacts in the water. FWIW

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Steripen Failure... on 10/29/2009 13:39:55 MDT Print View

My Steripen Adventurer has been very reliable since I stopped using rechargeable batteries in it.

I also carry some Micropur and an Aquamira Frontier drinking straw as a backup system since anything that is electronic can fail without warning (Micropur + Straw = 1 oz). I also carry a map and compass as a backup to my GPS... if it's electronic, I like to have a backup.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Re: Re: User error on 10/29/2009 13:48:17 MDT Print View

"Might depend on the model, but this is not true for the Adventurer. You push the button, and then you have a certain amount of time (I think it's 10 seconds but I'm not sure) to get the light and contacts in the water."

Could be. I'm not sure what version it is, but it is not the entry level one. It has an LCD display and shows a "happy face" when it completes it's cycle successfully.

BTW, it's quite possible I have the order of events wrong (I've never used it myself). Basically I was relating how it seemed to be intermediately failing when it really was user error. They work well, but require that you follow their procedure.

Edited by Hitech on 10/30/2009 14:36:52 MDT.

James Naphas
(naphas13) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Steripen with the happy face on 10/30/2009 11:13:28 MDT Print View

That's not the Adventurer. I concur with the prior post saying you push the button then immerse the lamp and contacts when using the adventurer. Also to take chemical or other backup; I had the steripen not work right one trip, though I'm not sure whether it was a battery charge issue or just gremlins in the electronics. It's worked fine since.

Jim Yancey
(jimyancey) - F

Locale: Missouri
Steripen on 10/30/2009 15:11:21 MDT Print View

I use a classic Steripen, and I too had some issues getting it to work reliably. The button is supposed to be pushed with the contacts OUT of the water. The unit blinks green slowly, and the operator has some time (~15 sec?) to immerse the lamp and contacts. When the contacts are immersed, the lamp lights and the water is disinfected. I had been pushing the button and holding it down and kept getting errors (flashing red.) I discovered that only a very brief push of the button is required for the unit to work properly. I have also noted the presence of the drops of mercury in the inner light tube, and I sometimes shake the unit before activating it to make sure the mercury is distributed through the tube. I have never been at all concerned about mercury poisoning since the tube is hermetically sealed, and is inside a second tube. The tube is essentially a fluorescent light tube made of quartz and without the phosphors to generate visible light. The mercury is essential for the generation of the UV spectrum. I would not be concerned about the mercury at all, unless, of course, the tube gets broken.

I use disposable Li batteries, and I have found that the unit is more finicky in colder conditions. I also carry chlorine dioxide tablets as a backup.

IMHO, I like the Steripen.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Steripen on 10/30/2009 17:17:55 MDT Print View

"I use disposable Li batteries, and I have found that the unit is more finicky in colder conditions. I also carry chlorine dioxide tablets as a backup."

I found that to be true also on our JMT hike this year. We had chlorine dioxide for back up and we used them a lot. Our Journey was VERY inconsistent in colder conditions. It's great when it's working. Just dip it and voila! ready to drink. However, at 5.3 oz. it's a bit of a weight penalty to have a device that is so finicky IMHO.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Steripen "COLD" performance on 10/30/2009 17:21:09 MDT Print View

While our last trip wasn't "COLD", it was in the 40s and the Steripen was working every time. He does not use rechargeable batteries however.