People are being advised to be careful with their lithium-ion batteries because they can sometimes cause dangerous fires, and even one death has been linked to them. This warning comes from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which released a report about the risks of these batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are found in many everyday items like phone chargers, cordless vacuums, toys, camping gear, and electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, e-scooters, e-bikes, and power tools.
Although these batteries are common, the ACCC’s report says they can be risky because they might cause fires, even though it’s not common. The ACCC also mentioned that when lithium-ion batteries fail, they can be particularly dangerous because they contain a liquid that can easily catch fire.
“Heat is produced as a natural part of how a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery works. However, when these batteries fail uncontrollably, the combination of heat and the volatile liquid inside them can lead to serious and self-sustaining fires,” explained the ACCC.
“These fires can be challenging to put out and may even start again by themselves. Moreover, because many individual cells are often connected in a battery pack, a failure in one cell can trigger a chain reaction, resulting in a larger fire,” the ACCC warned.
The ACCC also mentioned that there has been at least one reported death in Australia linked to a fire caused by a lithium-ion battery.
For example, in July of this year, an e-bike with a faulty Li-ion battery exploded in a Sydney home, causing a fire that damaged the home’s ground floor and a nearby vehicle. Firefighters had to work hard to prevent the battery from reigniting and had to remove several other Li-ion batteries from the scene.
Just recently, a Li-ion battery exploded at a Sydney hostel, sending a fireball down the hallway and injuring at least one guest.
Over the past five years, the ACCC received 231 safety reports related to products containing Li-ion batteries, resulting in an estimated recall of 89,000 products. Out of the 23 product recalls tied to Li-ion batteries, 20 were due to the risk of fire, overheating, or short-circuiting.
ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe expressed concern about the growing number of incidents involving Li-ion battery fires causing property damage and serious injuries, including burns, chemical exposure, and smoke inhalation.
While national emergency room data regarding these incidents is limited, figures from Victoria show that between 2016 and 2022, there were 19 emergency room visits due to injuries related to or potentially involving Li-ion batteries.
In over 70 percent of these cases, the injuries were burns, with wrists and hands being the most commonly affected areas. Approximately one-third of these patients required hospitalization for further medical care.
Several states reported incidents of fires caused by exploding Li-ion batteries:
- Queensland Fire and Emergency Services documented 157 battery-related fires between 2021 and 2023.
- The WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services reported 81 incidents in 2022.
- Fire and Rescue NSW recorded 149 battery-related incidents between January 1 and September 15, 2023, representing a 16% increase compared to the same period the previous year.
The ACCC noted that the demand for Li-ion batteries continues to grow as technology becomes increasingly integrated into our lives. It is projected that by 2026, the average Australian household will have 33 devices powered by Li-ion batteries.
The report stated, “The use of Li-ion batteries in consumer products is appealing because they are portable, have a high energy density, and offer better power efficiency than other battery types.”
“As the use of Li-ion batteries becomes more common in Australian households, we can expect to see a rise in incidents related to these batteries,” warned the ACCC.
To prevent Li-ion battery fires, the ACCC offered several safety tips for consumers. These include practicing safe charging habits for devices, ensuring that Li-ion batteries are kept away from heat, moisture, and potential damage, purchasing high-quality batteries, and disposing of them properly.
ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe emphasized the importance of these safety practices, saying, “Consumers should avoid mixing different chargers, unplug devices when they are fully charged, charge batteries in a cool, dry area, and keep them away from flammable materials such as beds, sofas, or carpets. Additionally, inspect your lithium-ion batteries for signs of overheating, swelling, leaking, or gas venting, and cease using the product immediately if any of these signs are present.”
The ACCC also raised concerns about safety when Li-ion batteries reach the end of their life cycle. These batteries are more likely to pose a fire hazard when exposed to heat, moisture, or when crushed, conditions commonly encountered in garbage trucks and household waste facilities.
Source – nypost