Many electronic devices and vehicles are operated by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which can cause fires or explode if they are damaged. Damage to a lithium-ion battery in an accident can cause the cells to discharge energy and heat up, leading to “thermal runaway,” which can cause the cells to ignite and burn. Additionally, saltwater inundation may cause short-circuiting that leads to the same result. This has been documented in places such as Florida after Hurricane Ian, which had 21 electric vehicles (EVs) according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
There are, however, steps you can take to protect your lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles and equipment and safeguard your family and property. Understanding and following safety precautions is crucial to prevent accidents and ensure the longevity of your devices.
- In an Emergency: Notify 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect your electric vehicle has battery damage.
- Prior to a potential flooding event, disconnect the vehicle from the charging device, cover charging station outlet to prevent water from entering, move vehicle at least 50 feet from flammable materials. If possible, remove the vehicle from the potential flood area.
- If a lithium-ion battery-powered vehicle has been exposed to or damaged by water, salt water, or other conditions, do not attempt to go near the vehicle, charge or drive the vehicle, or store the vehicle indoors or near structures. Keep at least 50 feet from the vehicle.
- Electric vehicles with suspected battery damage should be towed and inspected by the vehicle dealer or a mechanic certified for hybrids or EVs before use.
- If an EV has sustained damage and cannot be towed, request assistance from emergency responders to disconnect the battery pack from the vehicle safely.
- When charging an electric vehicle or equipment, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and use charging devices certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
- If the lithium-ion battery in a vehicle or equipment is emitting an odor, or the color or shape changes, there is an increase in heat, its leaking, or smoking, stop using it and call 9-1-1.
NOTE: A lithium-ion battery could be damaged and not exhibit any of these signs immediately. Damaged lithium-ion batteries can heat up uncontrollably, resulting in fires, off-gassing flammable and toxic vapors, and explosions. Damaged lithium-ion batteries can pose a risk after the initial damage; some were observed to have reignited days after the original damage.
- Store batteries in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Ideal storage temperatures typically range from 68o to 77o or follow manufacturer’s storage recommendations.
- Lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to physical damage. Avoid dropping or puncturing them, as this can lead to internal shorts and potential fires. When possible, store and transport batteries in a protective case.
- Lithium-ion batteries should be disposed of at a designated recycling center or follow your local regulations for battery disposal. Never dispose of lithium-ion batteries in regular household waste.
- Always use the charger provided with the device, or a reputable third-party charger specifically designed for the device. Incompatible chargers can overcharge or undercharge battery, leading to safety issues.
- Overcharging a lithium battery can lead to overheating and possible thermal runaway. Most modern devices have built-in safeguards to prevent overcharging. However, it is still a good practice to unplug devices once they are fully charged to extend the battery’s lifespan and reduce risk.
- Devices such as gaming laptops or drones demand a lot of energy that can put extra strain on lithium-ion batteries. Monitor the temperature of devices and if they become excessively hot or begin to swell, stop using the device immediately.