More lithium and lithium-ion batteries are being used in products today and just like any material, if we understand how to use it safely, it should not pose any problem. (Note: Lithium batteries are single-use batteries and lithium-ion batteries are the rechargeable kind.)
Lithium-containing batteries, when damaged. defective or used improperly, can present a fire and/or an explosion hazard. Small items such as a laptop can typically have 6 lithium cells in them, while an electric vehicle can use 7,000 lithium-ion cells. This change in size greatly increases the risk and effects of a fire. If an electric vehicle catches on fire in your garage, you most likely do not have a way to deal with a 3,632° F fire.
Should I Really Worry About My Battery Catching on Fire?
If your battery stays intact, and does not allow moisture to get inside, or as long as there is not an issue with overcharging where the temperature runs away, you should be fine. The issue is that lithium and water don’t like each other. In fact, in its pure form, water causes lithium to react, sometimes violently, creating sparks and lots of heat, as well as hydrogen gas.
Lithium-ion batteries are a little different than the pure form of lithium in that they are filled with a lithium compound, and not pure lithium. Because of this, the material in many batteries are not quite as active with water. But when you have 7,000 cells in one place, if one catches on fire, a chain reaction can occur that you cannot control. Also fighting that fire with water may not be the best solution when water can cause it to react more.
This can be the same for industry. Lithium-ion batteries are being used in everything from pumps and instruments, to cars and equipment, hand tools, computer servers, and so many more products. Even your wireless mouse may have lithium-ion batteries.
If you just throw that away in the trash, not only are you potentially violating waste regulations and DOT shipping regulations, you may also be creating a fire hazard for the waste removal truck the landfill that it goes to.
DOT Issues Advisory Warning for Lithium-Containing Batteries
Recently DOT has found the issue with shipping lithium-containing batteries for recycle or waste has gotten out of hand. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is the HazMat division of the DOT, has issued a safety advisory on the dangers to help people out. The advisory warns that shippers and carriers need to take extra (and sometimes different) precautions when shipping damaged, defective or recalled lithium-containing batteries.
During recent compliance inspections, DOT inspectors have been finding improperly packaged and shipped lithium-containing batteries for disposal or recycling. Some examples include:
- Not packaging to prevent short circuiting
- Mixing damaged batteries with others in the same packaging for recycling/disposal
- Shipping pallets of batteries in boxes and drums with inappropriate package identifications
From a hazardous waste perspective, EPA recommends that lithium batteries be managed under the Universal Waste regulations.
Battery Disposal Rules – for Consumers
Regular citizens should take used, damaged, defective or recalled lithium-containing batteries to recycling facilities geared for accepting them, or your local household hazardous waste collection point. Do NOT throw them away with your other garbage. If there is an item that’s recalled that has the battery in it, follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions and disposal instructions. Pay attention to any warnings.
Find an authorized provider to ship any lithium-containing batteries because they are considered to be hazardous materials. When the post office asks if you are shipping hazardous materials, lithium-containing batteries makes that answer yes.
Battery Shipping and Disposal Rules – for Businesses
If you are a business, there are a number of regulations you need to follow to properly deal with lithium-containing batteries. First, they can only be shipped by ground methods, so that’s by truck, rail or vessel. Overnight shipments or any shipment that could potential go via air methods are out of the question.
There are also specific regulations and procedures you need to follow to properly package, label and ship them. There are regulations about the type of box you send them in because those packages must have special permits for this role. There are special labels and markings that need to go on the packages and special ways they need to be packaged. Workers who will be participating in any function of the process are required to have proper training specific to their role, and that training is required every 3 years. Emergency response information must also be included in the package process.
Training and Consulting Resource
iSi conducts hazardous materials shipping for businesses as well as conducts training to properly ship hazardous materials via ground, air, and vessel. If you are a business that has question about how to deal with your lithium-containing batteries or if your workers need training, contact us today!
International Hazardous Materials Logistics Manager | EHS Regulatory Trainer
As a former corporate environmental, health and safety manager, Ryan has a vast experience in working with both environmental and safety compliance issues in multiple states. His specialties include national and international dangerous goods transportation, hazardous waste, environmental compliance, industrial hygiene and safety compliance. He is also an ISO 14001 Lead Auditor.