Knock-off lithium-ion batteries, safer charging stations at center of NYC fire prevention bills

Janice Yu Image
Monday, April 17, 2023
City Council considering 2 bills to prevent lithium-ion battery fires
There have been 63 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries in NYC leaving dozens injured and five dead. Michelle Charlesworth has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York officials aim to pass legislation that would help prevent fires caused by lithium-ion batteries by providing e-bike owners with better safety measures and more affordable battery options.

Video from a recent fire shows just how quickly e-bike and scooter batteries can spark fires, trapping people inside their homes.

So far this year, there have been 63 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, dozens have been hurt as a result and five people have died.

Just a week ago, a 7-year-old boy and a 19-year-old woman were killed during a fire caused by an e-bike charging by the front door of their Queens apartment.

Fire officials also said lithium-ion battery fires are harder for crews to extinguish.

"These fires that we see from these bikes, the fire travels very quickly and doesn't allow people to get out. This is a new and challenging problem for the city as well as the fire department," FDNY Chief Fire Marshall Dan Flynn said. "We want people to purchase chargers that are compatible with the devices that they purchase. Do not buy the cheapest option. Make sure that what you buy is compatible with the device."

The New York City Council has already considered and passed several pieces of legislation regarding lithium-ion batteries and they'll take a look at two more bills proposed by Councilmember Keith Powers on Monday.

The first piece of legislation would establish a program that would provide new, better lithium-ion batteries at a low price or for free to replace cheap knock-offs.

The other would require businesses to provide workers who use e-bikes for commercial purposes with fireproof or fire-resistant containers to charge the batteries.

Still, some officials question if these bills would go far enough to effectively bring down the likelihood of fires from lithium-ion batteries.

"So if you have the battery and the charger and they're compatible, can you plug it in? Is that safe? Nobody knows these answers to these questions by the way," Councilmember Gale Brewer said.

One problem is cost. Knock-off batteries cost around $200, while a legitimate battery can cost close to $1000.

For delivery workers who make very little and while working 14 hours a day, the cost is a big factor.

And even the best technology is flawed, according to fire experts.

"The concern with this technology is that even under perfect circumstances, you can have a thermal run away even with a certified product," Julian Bazel of the FDNY Code Counsel said.

Officials are also concerned about the lack of outreach and education provided to workers who purchase or use e-bikes many of whom are immigrants that may feel vulnerable reaching out to the city for assistance.

"I'm interested in pursuing solutions that number one are safe for workers and that don't seek to penalize them," Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa said. "

De La Rosa proposed reaching out to members of these communities to ensure they have smoke detectors and proper fire safety plans in place.

"I hear it all the time no alarms were heard constantly and they don't know about it until there's banging on the door," De La Rosa said.

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