Lithium-ion batteries have been in the headlines recently after causing fires in the city.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the common rechargeable power sources.
What are lithium-ion batteries?
A lithium-ion battery is “an advanced battery technology that uses lithium ions as a key component of its electrochemistry,” according to the Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington. They are in many electric bikes and electric scooters.
The batteries have a tendency to overheat and can spontaneously combust when charging. The Clean Energy Institute said the batteries can also lose capacity and fail “after a number of years.”
Who uses lithium-ion batteries?
Some food delivery workers rely on e-bikes and e-scooters that contain lithium-ion batteries for their jobs. Some store them in their living space.
Some residents also use those bikes to commute to work.
How many fires have lithium-ion batteries caused in the city?
Lithium-ion batteries sparked 60 fires across the five boroughs between Jan. 1 and May 3 this year, according to the FDNY. City data shows it represents a 233% increase from the same period last year, which saw 18 fires between Jan. 1 and May 3 of 2021.
There have been 66 injuries and five deaths in fires involving lithium-ion batteries this year, the FDNY said. Additionally, there have been 121 investigations involving lithium-ion batteries so far this year, 17 more than the same time period last year (Jan. 1, 2021-Aug. 3, 2021).
What are some examples of fires lithium-ion batteries started or could have started?
- A fire broke out Wednesday morning on the sixth floor of an eight-story East Harlem apartment, killing a 36-year-old woman, a 5-year-old girl and three dogs. The child’s 46-year-old father is in critical condition. The FDNY said an e-bike or e-scooter’s lithium-ion batteries sparked the deadly blaze.
- Five people were injured — three seriously — by a fire in a Bronx sixth-floor apartment on Monday, firefighters said. A 28-year-old man in the house is a food delivery worker and uses an e-scooter to get around. He was charging the battery before the flames erupted and fire officials said the battery sparked the fire.
- A fire in a Hell's Kitchen building — with a first-floor bike rental shop in it — injured one and forced people out of their homes in June. The FDNY confirmed that there were “numerous” lithium-ion batteries found at the scene of the fire.
- Lithium-ion batteries caused a fire this May in a four-story apartment in Sunset Park. One store on the ground floor was an e-scooter repair business that stored batteries “contrary to the legal occupancy of the building,” the city’s buildings department said in a statement.
- One man died and a woman and two teenagers were injured in a fourth-floor fire in the East Village in December. The FDNY said a lithium-ion battery from an e-bike caused the flames, which took firefighters about an hour to get under control.
What is being done about this issue?
The New York City Public Housing Authority is contemplating adding a new rule banning e-bikes inside its 177,000 apartments across the city.
The proposed policy is currently undergoing a public comment period that will conclude on Sept. 6. Then, the housing authority will analyze stakeholder feedback before issuing a final policy, a NYCHA spokesperson said in July.
How should lithium-ion batteries be charged and stored?
The FDNY advises against charging a lithium-ion battery under a pillow, on a bed or on a couch. They also suggest using the manufacturer’s cord and power adapter made specifically for the device. When charging, batteries should never be left unattended.
Batteries should be kept at room temperature and away from direct sunlight, according to the FDNY. They should not be near anything flammable.
Finally, if a battery overheats, emits an odor, changes shape or color, leaks, makes noises, the FDNY instructs that one should call 911.
How should lithium-ion batteries be disposed?
It is illegal to put lithium-ion batteries in the trash or recycling, according to the city.
The batteries can be taken to a Special Waste Disposal site or a store that sells rechargeable batteries or products containing them, the city said. Laws require all state stores selling rechargeable batteries or products containing them to accept rechargeable batteries for recycling.
Where can I find more information?
The FDNY has an informational flyer with safety tips for lithium-ion batteries. It can be downloaded by clicking here.