New legislation introduced in New York City to help prevent lithium-ion battery fires

Officials have introduced new legislation in an effort to prevent fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion battery explosions are now the third leading cause of fires in New York City after smoking and open flames, according to the FDNY.

So far this year, the FDNY reports batteries have been linked to 33 fires and 42 people have been inured while two have died.

Congressman Ritchie Torres says batteries that are safely manufactured and safely used are not causing these fires. But right now, there is barely any incentive for manufacturers to ensure that they are safe.

“The scandal is not that the federal government is failing to regulate the safety of these batteries,” Torres said. “The scandal is that the federal government is not even trying. At the federal level there are no safety regulators or safety regulations.”

That’s why Torres is introducing a bill that would regulate the batteries and enforce the regulations.

He made the announcement on the Grand Concourse where surveillance video from Sunday morning captured an e-bike battery bursting into flames with no warning.

The fire burned down a supermarket and a laundromat, sending seven people to the hospital.

The investigation will determine whether that charred e-bike didn’t have a certified battery or had one that had been tampered with, perhaps to give it some more power.

“In almost all cases we are seeing either that they’re not certified or that there’s some after-market tampering with the devices, we know that’s the most dangerous situation for an e-bike,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.

Compliance with safety standards is currently voluntary and Torres says their wide availability is part of a perfect storm leading to more fires. Another part is the surge in delivery services since the pandemic.

“And with a whole new industry, comes a new wave of food delivery workers who rely on these e-mobility devices as a mode of transportation,” Torres said. “And there was also a 2016 law, a change in federal law, that exempts imports below $800 from inspection and tariffs.”

“We have to come at this from every angle,” Kavanagh said. “Federal, city, state. Regulation, education, outreach.”

And that outreach will be key in the meantime before any changes take effect.

The Fire Marshals’ office has been going around educating businesses about the dangers of these batteries.

Torres says companies like Grubhub and Uber that use these vehicles can also be part of the solution.

And there are city regulations for the batteries in the works, but a lot of people buy them online and not in person in the city, so federal regulations would be the most effective in ensuring that people are getting safe batteries.

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