Regulating Lithium Ion Batteries

By Alicia Venter

A legislative package strengthening fire safety of e-bikes and scooters was passed by the City Council on March 2, in an effort to address the fire dangers posed by powered devices and batteries that do not have recognized safety standard certifications.

As of March 2, more than 20 lithium-ion battery fires have been reported in the city this year, and on Sunday, ​​A five-alarm fire in the Bronx that injured seven people was reportedly caused by an e-bike battery.

In 2021, the FDNY investigated 220 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries which resulted in 6 deaths and 147 injuries.

The package has five different legislative introductions that collectively look to target the unregulated lithium-ion batteries, which can malfunction due to not meeting safety requirements.

Introduction 663-A looks to regulate the selling of mobility powered devices that do not meet recognized safety standard certification. In order for any device to be sold legally, the device and its storage batteries would be required to be certified as meeting the applicable Underwriters Laboratories safety standards.

“The sharp rise in fires involving e-bike batteries is incredibly concerning,” said Council Member Oswald Feliz, who introduced the legislation. “Last year, there were approximately 220 fires caused by defective e-bike batteries. Families were displaced, and some of them lost loved ones. This cannot become the norm, so we are taking action. Not all batteries have caused fire safety challenges. Batteries that are certified have safety-related tools that help prevent overheating and other malfunctions that lead to fires. My legislation will require that batteries go through certification in order to be sold in NYC – to ensure they are safe for our communities to use. I also look forward to working on additional bills, including Majority Leader Keith Powers’ bill, which would create a battery swap program. We are dedicated to ensuring that e-bike batteries are safe and accessible for all New Yorkers.”

Introduction 722-A, introduced by local councilman Robert Holden, would require the FDNY to submit five reports — one per year for five years — related to the fire risks associated with the devices, with data on on the fire risks posed by powered mobility devices, how the FDNY is taking action to reduce the risks and recommendations to further decrease the risks. This will “help the FDNY to stay ahead of the curve and be better prepared to respond to any incidents involving lithium-ion batteries,” Holden said in a statement.

The FDNY would also be required to develop an information campaign to educate the public on the fire risks posed by powered mobility devices (Introduction 656-A).

The legislative package also would restrict the assembly and reconditioning of lithium-ion batteries with cells removed from used batteries (Introduction 752-A) and would require the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to develop and public educational material on e-bike safety risks delivery workers (Introduction 749-A).

“The toll that fires are increasingly having on families and communities is devastating and requires the urgent attention of all levels of government,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “We must reduce the avoidable fire tragedies caused by the wide proliferation of uncertified lithium-ion batteries. These bills are an initial step to increase public education and reduce the growing commercial circulation of uncertified batteries that pose the greatest danger. There is continued work to do with all stakeholders, particularly our deliveristas, to support livelihoods and safety.”

Beyond the City Council, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, wrote a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) calling on the agency to do more to curb imports of dangerous unbranded lithium-ion batteries used in electric micro-mobility devices.

As 65,000 delivery workers rely on these devices in New York City, she described how the unregulated, unbranded batteries put them, and the city, at risk.

“As public officials, it is our duty to represent the public interest and protect American consumers, especially our deliveristas, from the extreme and tragic hardships caused by lithium-ion battery fires,” wrote Velázquez. “The livelihoods and well-being of many American workers rely upon the safety of their vehicles, and they are still waiting on the federal government to act.”

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