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July 03, 2024 - CPSC, Consumer Products, Product Liability, Retail

Lithium-Ion Battery Safety Heavily Featured at 2024 NFPA Conference

Consumer Product Safety Enforcement To Heat Up Under Biden Administration

Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries, commonly found in devices used every day, including cell phones, e-cigarettes, and laptops. Lithium-ion batteries are also found in electric vehicles, e-scooters, and other micro-mobility vehicles.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate injuries and deaths caused by fire hazards, heavily emphasized lithium-ion battery safety at its 2024 annual conference, featuring educational sessions and workshops focused on the fire risks associated with lithium-ion batteries. According to the NFPA, while lithium-ion batteries “provide an effective and efficient source of power, the likelihood of them overheating, catching on fire, and even leading to explosions increases when they are damaged or improperly used, charged, or stored.”

Specific emphasis was placed on lithium-ion batteries found in e-bikes and other micro-mobility devices at the NFPA conference. According to the NFPA, the New York Fire Department reported more than 130 fires started by e-bikes or e-scooters—up from just 13 in 2019—which led to five deaths.

Lithium-ion batteries, including the ones found in most electric vehicles, are susceptible to a reaction called thermal runaway, a process in which the lithium-ion cell heats up uncontrollably in a matter of seconds, which can cause the battery to catch fire or explode. These potential issues presented by damaged or defective lithium-ion batteries create significant exposure to regulatory and litigation risk for manufacturers and retailers of consumer products containing lithium-ion batteries.

The Consumer Product and Safety Commissions (CPSC) has also increased its focus on and scrutiny of lithium-ion battery safety in e-bikes and other micro-mobility devices. In its 2024 Operating Plan, CPSC noted its plan to propose mandatory safety standards for lithium-ion batteries in micro-mobility products and enforce existing regulations.

Lawmakers have also taken steps to regulate the possible risks posed by lithium-ion batteries in micro-mobility devices. For example, the Chicago City Council committee has called for an ordinance that would permit fines for distributing devices with lithium-ion batteries that do not meet safety certifications. Rhode Island introduced a bill that would increase funding to the state’s fire academy for specialized lithium-ion battery response training. And New York recently passed a law that bans the sale, rental, or distribution of e-mobility devices containing batteries that have not been certified by a nationally recognized testing lab.

It seems inevitable that federal, state, and local regulations will continue to tighten around the use of lithium-ion batteries in consumer products. Manufacturers should prepare for stricter regulations in the near future by monitoring regulatory updates and ensuring compliance with applicable existing voluntary standards. We will continue to monitor new regulations and provide ongoing updates.