Federal safety officials are warning about serious risks if lithium ion batteries are separated from packs and used to power devices, indicating consumers should not purchase or attempt to use loose 18650 lithium-ion battery cells that may be sold on the internet.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued the lithium-ion battery warning on January 8, after determining the cells manufactured as industrial component parts for battery packs are being separated, rewrapped and sold as new consumer batteries, which may be prone to short circuit when contact is made with metal objects.
Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are commonly used in vaping pens, toys and other consumer products. However, without proper protection or if the cells are not installed in a device or part of an integral battery, they pose serious risks when being handled, stored, transported or otherwise used.
Safety officials warn the exposed metal positive and negative terminals have the potential to short-circuit when they come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change in an individual’s pocket. A short circuiting event could cause the loose battery cells to overheat and experience thermal runaway, which may ignite the cell’s internal materials, resulting in consumer burns, fires, explosions and serious injuries and death.
Officials are also warning about thermal runaway risks that may occur in 18650 lithium ion batteries when used with incorrect or aftermarket charging docks, which are not designed to prevent the cells from charging over a specified capacity.
The CPSC is currently working with a growing list of e-commerce sites, including eBay, to remove listings advertising the sale of loose 18650 lithium-ion battery cells.
Customers are being instructed to never use loose 18650 lithium ion cells in battery packs not sold specifically for the product, and to stop using and properly discard any separated or rewrapped 18650 lithium ion batteries sold online.
Over the last several years, loosely regulated lithium-ion batteries manufactured without a high degree of quality control have been used to power popular mobile consumer products such as vaping pens, laptop battery packs, flashlights, electric vehicles, cordless tools and various other devices that require portable power.
The CPSC has received an overwhelming amount of adverse events linked to poorly manufactured lithium ion batteries experiencing short circuit and thermal runaway events, resulting in hundreds of serious injuring, some of which requiring hospitalization and even resulting in death.
Lithium ion battery defects have been linked to hundreds of vaping pen explosions from 2009 through 2016, as electronic nicotine delivery systems have become increasingly popular across the globe.
In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned all forms of electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes and vape pens from checked baggage on aircraft, and e-cigarette devices and batteries may not be charged aboard any aircraft. The rule was finalized by the agency following several reports of e-cigarettes catching on fire inside of checked luggage.