Is the Lithium Battery in Your Device Safe?

 

Lithium batteries are in many items, from electronic cigarettes to motor vehicles. Most of the devices are perfectly safe. However, there have been a few issues arising from items containing these batteries. The UW Bothell campus recently had a hover board fire, and there was a fire on the Seattle campus because of a battery-powered vacuum cleaner.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reported 171 air/airport incidents involving batteries carried as cargo or baggage since 1991. They prohibit transporting uninstalled lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries in checked baggage. You may be able to transport installed lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries in your carry-on bags, but the batteries must be a certain size and must be installed in a device or protected from damage and short circuit. For more information, see the FAA website and this video. You can also contact EH&S's Environmental Programs team (hazmat@uw.edu) with questions about transporting batteries.

You can prevent fires from batteries in your devices with a few safe practices:

  • Do not leave devices charging unattended, and remove them from power when charging is complete.
  • Keep a clear area around items when charging. For example, do not charge your laptop while it is still in your backpack or in your bed. Items such as bedding and clothing can contribute to overheating.
  • Purchase devices and batteries from reputable sellers. This is especially important when purchasing replacement batteries. Batteries that do not meet stringent safety standards pose serious fire dangers, and some sellers and manufacturers do not meet the standards. The safest approach is to purchase batteries from reputable, well-known manufacturers.

For questions about safe battery storage and use, contact EH&S's Building & Fire Safety team.