Environmental Health & Safety Compliance Blog

Lithium Battery EH&S Safety Concerns

Posted by Rebecca McDaniel on Dec 14, 2009 9:11:00 AM

By Doug Graham, Senior Environmental Compliance Advisor

Most shippers and carriers are now aware of several regulatory changes that have effectively tightened up the shipping requirements for both lithium metal and lithium ion batteries. Both the US Department of Transportation and the International Air Transport Association have made significant revisions to the rules in both 2008 and 2009. 

Packaging Lithium Batteries per updated DOT Regulations

Guidelines for New DOT Regulations Regarding Batteries sent for Recycling

What’s this all about?

Here are a few interesting facts and statistics raised during a November 19, 2009 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous materials:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gathered information on 90 hazardous materials incidents occurring from 1991 to 2008. That data indicated that 27 percent of these incidents involved lithium batteries.
  • The vast majority of those lithium battery incidents (73%) resulted from either internal or external short-circuiting; 12% from charging or discharging; and 6% from activation of devices containing lithium batteries. The balance of the incidents resulted from either malfunctions or improper handling.
  • FAA testing has indicated that current aircraft cargo fire suppression system would not be capable of suppressing a fire if a shipment of metal lithium batteries were ignited in flight.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated a February 7, 2006 incident at the Philadelphia International Airport in which a fire – suspected to have been caused by lithium batteries – destroyed a United Parcel Service cargo aircraft and most of its cargo.
  • That incident lead to the NTSB making five recommendations to the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In light of this increased awareness and dynamic rule-making environment, offerors and transporters are well-advised to check and double check the most recent requirements before getting lithium batteries moving over the road, water, or especially, through the air.

Tags: Hazardous Materials, DOT, IATA, Lithium Batteries