A fire that destroyed a supermarket earlier this month in the Fordham Heights section of the Grand Concourse may have injured some people and cost some people jobs. But luckily no one lost a life.
The biggest takeaway from that Sunday morning blaze was that the alleged cause was an electric scooter with a lithium-ion battery that was charging. It was the second such fire on the Grand Concourse in a little more than a year to be sparked by a lithium-ion battery.
In fact, lithium-ion batteries have been blamed for more than 200 fires in New York City in 2022, killing six people and injuring nearly 150. That’s double the amount of battery fires in 2021, according to the New York City Fire Department.
While the lithium-ion batteries are generally safe and unlikely to fail, according to OSHA, that is only when they are not damaged or are free of defects. The federal worker safety agency states lithium batteries may present a fire or explosion hazard when they fail or are damaged. That can result from improper use, storage, or issues with charging.
The most likely reason for a recent spate of lithium-related fires is due to the increase in e-bike and e-scooters by people and workers during and after Covid-19. Many of those people are delivery drivers providing takeout service for restaurants trying to survive after the 2020 lockdown.
The National Fire Protection Association has issued a tip sheet for e-bike and e-scooter drivers meant to avoid battery failures. They warn that damaged or defective batteries can overheat, catch fire, or explode. They also say battery fires give off toxic gases and burn extremely hot.
They tell e-bike and e-scooter owners to:
• Only purchase and use devices, batteries, and charging equipment that are listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly.
• Only use the battery and the charger that were designed for, and came with, the device.
• Do not keep charging the device or device battery after it is fully charged.
• Only charge one device or device battery at a time to prevent overloading the circuit.
• Keep batteries at room temperature when possible. Do not charge them at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or above 105 degrees.
• Do not store batteries in direct sunlight or inside hot vehicles, and keep them away from children and liquids.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has seen the trend toward more e-vehicle fires and has responded with a new certification for such electric vehicles. It’s called UL 2849, a standard that requires “you certify or pay attention to electrical shock and hazardous situation concerning the battery,” AutoWeek reported. The certification is meant to be the driving force behind the safe rollout of electric mobility technology.
This is where state elected officials come in. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Liz Krueger have co-sponsored a pair of bills to implement regulations to curtail the proliferation of low-quality, lithium-ion batteries. One bill would require all lithium-ion batteries and chargers to meet minimum industry safety standards to be legally sold in New York. Another bill would prohibit the sale of second-use of such batteries intended for use in a bicycle with electric assist, an e-scooter or a limited use motorcycle.
Both bills would call for penalties ranging from $200 to $1,000.
We call for the quick passage of this legislation. While it may only be a start toward thwarting such fires, it could save lives and make the streets and buildings where people live and work safer.