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September 30, 2016

Playing with Fire: 90 percent of Americans are carrying devices with potentially unstable batteries

by: T. David Hoyle

Perhaps it’s an understatement to say that we are in the personal device age. A whopping 90 percent of Americans own a smart device whether it’s smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, laptops, and even e-cigarettes. What you may not know is that the technology that keeps most of those devices running is a lithium-ion battery pack and any device with one has the potential to explode or catch fire without warning.

While these products aim to entertain, we have seen mounting reports of overheating and fires related to certain products with defective batteries that could lead to property damage, serious injury and even death.

The Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration have tightened rules to keep public transportation safe. The FAA even has a full web page on “Portable Electronic Devices” and how they may be used in flight. However, little has been done to protect consumers from personal injury or property damage, yet new tech products and toys are still being released with these potentially dangerous batteries.

Too Hot to Handle

The Galaxy Note7s has been a hot topic since it hit the market in August, quickly selling 2.5 million devices. Since releasing just over a month ago, Samsung has received 92 reports of the lithium-ion batteries overheating. Of the 92 reports, 26 have reported burns and 55 have reported property damage, prompting the tech giant to cease sales of the faulty devices on Sept. 2, 2016.

Samsung issued a voluntary recall, in cooperation with the CPSC, formally recalling the devices, “due to serious fire and burn hazards,” on Thursday, Sept. 15.

This is not the first time that we have seen major issues surrounding common products with lithium-ion batteries.

Bad Batteries

Last holiday season, hoverboards were the hot gift…until batteries in them were determined to be the cause of fires. Ten companies recalled more than 500,000 hoverboards after the CPSC received 99 reports that the battery packs in the popular Christmas gift exploded or caught fire. As a result many airlines banned the hazardous toys aboard flights, checked or as a carry-on item.

Exploding E-Cigs

Another device that has yet to berecalled is the e-cigarette or vape pen. They require similar batteries and may overheat without warning. They have been said to act like exploding rockets or firecrackers due to their size and cylindrical shape. People who have had the product explode while in use have suffered from severe facial injuries, blindness and even a broken neck.

To the shock of shoppers, this terrifying event recently happened to a woman in a mall. The e-cigarette battery exploded inside her purse while she was checking out. Watch as the scary event unfolds.

Why do Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode?

Lithium-ion batteries are popular with manufacturers ranging from to toy makers and tech giants because of their ability to recharge, being light-weight and the high energy density, allowing batteries to hold a charge. The batteries are replacing lead acid batteries commonly found in golf carts, for example. However, they can be very dangerous under certain conditions.

Lithium-ion batteries contain a flammable electrolyte that must be kept pressurized. Materials, voltage and energy density can greatly affect the stability of the batteries, thus making certain products more prone to defects.

Certain products’ design can increase the risk of these defects. For example, the weakest part of the battery is the end.  With a cylindrical product, like an e-cigarette, the end of the product and the end of the battery are the same and there is not a hard case, like with a laptop, to prevent a rupture. In other circumstances, counterfeit or after-market chargers bought separately from the device can greatly affect the battery charge and voltage, increasing the risk of fires or explosion.

Store lithium-ion batteries in a cool, dry place, away from microwaves, flames and other sources of heat. Handle the batteries with care, and only use them with chargers that have been specially designed for their use. Report any incidents to the proper authorities.

Read part two on this topic with more information about these potentially hazardous but widely used consumer products.