Keep your family safe from the risks of lithium-ion batteries

SPOKANE, Wash. — As we head into the holiday season, a time of giving gifts of all kinds — electronic toys, tools and gadgets — the Spokane Fire Department is educating us on the risks that come with the newest innovations.

You’ve probably seen videos online (like this one) of phones and other electronic devices combusting. Those explosions are the results of thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that happens when the temperature within a battery (like the one in your cell phone) exceeds a certain point.

Essentially, the heat generated is greater than the heat dispersed, and it sparks a chemical reaction and oftentimes, a fire.

“Through every new invention and every new innovation that comes into society, there is always a period of time where public safety has to adapt to the new reality,” Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. “The new risk that innovation brings to society.”

Right now, that newer innovation is lithium-ion batteries, and we’re still very much learning about the safety and health risks these products present. Meanwhile, we use them in just about every facet of our life.

In October, SFD hosted a national seminar that focused on fires started by these batteries. They brought leaders and scientists together from all over the country in hopes of better understanding the dangers that come from fires involving lithium-ion batteries.

“We know what is in that off-gassing material,” Schaeffer said. “It’s volatile, it’s carcinogenic, and many of those chemicals once they enter your body, they never leave.”

As a result, it’s the firefighters who bear the brunt of this when they’re protecting our community, by putting out these types of fires.

So where do we see these batteries?

“Things like toys that run on rechargeable batteries, kitchen devices that run on lithium-ion batteries,” Schaeffer said. “Essentially any type of electronic device that you would use in a cordless fashion, there is a high likelihood it’s a lithium-ion battery. All lithium-ion batteries will have an indicator on the underside of it that shows, ‘Li-ion.'”

How do we use them safely?

Charge the batteries only when you’re home and present, and within an area without combustibles. When the devices are fully charged, get them off the charger to prevent over-charging.

If you have a lithium-ion battery that’s been damaged, take it to the Waste to Energy Plant in Spokane, so they can dispose of it properly.

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