E-Bike And E-Scooter Safety – Is It All Or Nothing?
Lithium-Ion batteries (“L-I Batteries”) are used in numerous consumer devices, ranging from cell phones, laptops and tablets to vapes, electric toothbrushes, tools and cameras, and wheelchairs, bicycles and scooters. These batteries have a history of overheating, particularly on E-Bikes and E-Scooters. After several E-bike battery fires this spring, the NYC Housing Authority banned E-bikes and E-scooters from apartment buildings that they manage. These restrictions were subsequently reversed, in part because the ban didn’t distinguish L-I Batteries in E-bikes from other L-I devices, and in part because so many residents depended on E-Bikes in their livelihoods as delivery workers. To date the NYCHA has rejected less restrictive proposals (such as requiring upgrades of L-I batteries to national standards or parking E-bikes outside) because upgrades are costly and many NYCHA buildings do not have outside storage and charging facilities.
Unlike NYCHA renters, though, most Co-op and Condo owners do not need E-Bikes for their jobs. Therefore many Boards are considering flat bans on allowing E-Bikes to be stored within their buildings. Boards unquestionably have the authority to prohibit residents from storing E-Bikes or scooters using L-I batteries inside the premises. But will these bans solve the problem?
The National Fire Protection Association states, “[If lithium-ion batteries] are not used correctly, or if damaged, those batteries can catch on fire or explode.” Obviously Boards cannot simply issue a blanket prohibition on all L-I devices, but they can mitigate risk.
The NFPA recommends (among other things) that (a) users only purchase and use devices, batteries and charging equipment that are listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly; and (b) users should store E-bikes, E-scooters and L-I batteries away from exit doors and anything that can get hot or catch fire.
As to (a), the NFPA proposes that all L-I batteries include a certification of compliance with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) test 1642 or UL 2054. (Amazon, for example, requires that all products containing L-I batteries comply with UL 1642 or UL 2054.) But compliance with UL standards by sellers of L-I products remains voluntary. The NFPA also urges that all users remove L-I batteries from their chargers when fully charged, but that too depends on user compliance. OSHA adds other recommendations for the workplace, including making sure that replacement batteries are specifically designed and approved for the device, are purchased from the manufacturer of the device, and that L-I batteries are stored in a cool, dry place.
As to (b), it appears that statistically the majority of L-I battery fires are caused by E-Bikes, E-Scooters and cell phones. Therefore Associations could substantially reduce the risk of fire damage from overheated L-I Batteries by requiring L-I powered vehicles to be stored outside of the building. However, many buildings simply lack external bicycle parking capacity, and outdoor storage still leaves users with the problem of charging their devices. In other words, requiring exterior parking may have the same practical effect as a ban.
Notwithstanding, it may well be reasonable for Boards to limit potential fire risks to other owners by barring E-bikes from being stored indoors. To deal with other L-I devices, though, Boards should consider circulating other recommendations to owners as well, such as:
- Only use UL – certified batteries.
- Store devices using L-I batteries at room temperature.
- Check batteries for bulges, smells, heat or other signs of damage.
- Do not dispose of L-I batteries in the garbage or trash chute. Recycle them. (Call2recycle.org will help you dispose of them safely.)
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy. (A standard model is sufficient.)
Hopefully technology will advance sufficiently in the coming years that users will no longer need to be concerned with defective L-I Batteries for everyday consumer use.