Unplugging the danger of lithium


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Jun 06, 2023

Unplugging the danger of lithium

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Lithium-ion batteries are in a growing number of products these days. They're also causing more fires – some deadly.

"Lithium-ion, with time, is taking over the rechargeable battery industry," Battery Warehouse owner Joe Luers said.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are found in many popular items, including power tools, cell phones and laptops.

"With the advent of lithium-ion, it's been able to reduce size, weight and increase capacity," Luers said.

But that condensed power can create a ticking time bomb.

"And the explosive force, when those batteries do explode, those fires are difficult to put out," Manheim Township Fire Department Chief Scott Little said.

From New York to York, firefighters are being called to put out an increasing number of fires caused when the batteries overheat.

"There's a lot of challenges that are facing all of our fire service professionals when we combat these types of fires," Little said.

The batteries have been connected to rowhome fires, storage barn blazes and fires in trash trucks.

"The trucks, they have blades in them, so when they're compacting them, they're crushing the batteries and it catches the load on fire," Scott Querry, with Penn Waste, said.

A fire fueled by improperly disposed of lithium-ion batteries at Penn Waste's plant created another dangerous situation and forced a rebuild.

"We're putting people's lives at risk, not just employees, but firefighters as well," Querry said.

The recycling facility is taking steps to contain fires, including installing cameras monitored off-site and units that disperse foam and water until firefighters arrive.

"Thermal imaging that can see inside, see if there's any hot spots," Querry said.

Penn Waste is making moves to protect people and property, and you should do the same at home.

"Don't keep them charging overnight. Don't have them being charged unattended," Little said. "You need to have them directly plugged in. Don't daisy chain."

"You should charge it on a hard surface with good air circulation," Luers said.

Quality matters. Look for a UL-certified mark.

"Deal with a reputable company," Luers said.

Little also said you shouldn't plug in multiple chargers to the same power strip.

Don't overcharge or store near flammable materials.

And when batteries are worn out, don't throw them in the trash or recycling bins.

"We have a website that's a call to recycle. It'll tell you where you can take your lithium battery," Querry said.

These precautions can help ensure the products you use don't lead to tragedy.

The following information is from the National Fire Protection Association:

Stop using the battery if you notice these problems:

If it is safe to do so, move the device away from anything that can catch fire and call 911.