Lithium hazards in the air

The green blogger is back although still shaken from the aftermath of hurricane “office work”. Before beginning to scan the world wide green news, this tidbit of information from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) caught the attention of the blog, which might make someone think twice about people carrying their laptops or cameras on the plane.

From January 2007 to September 25, 2008, twenty-one battery incidents around the world – most of them involving lithium – were listed by the FAA . 96 air incidents involving batteries were recorded since March 20, 1991.

Here’s one example that happened on August 8, 2008:

While in flight, a passenger on American Airlines flight 1539 from Washington National to Dallas Ft Worth, noticed his Dell laptop was smoking. The passenger removed the battery pack and gave it to a flight attendant. The flight attendant placed the battery in a coffee pot in the aft gallery and poured water and Sprite on it. Dell has been advised of the incident.

Beginning January 1 this year, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) actually issued a safety regulation that limits the size and number of carry-on and checked in spare lithium batteries.

You can’t check-in batteries that are not installed in electronic devices. Carry-on or checked in gadgets with batteries that have more than 25 grams (~300 watt hours) of lithium ion content are also not allowed. And passengers are limited to just two large spare rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in carry-on baggage.

So, in addition to checking the amount of shampoo and conditioner you carry in your air travels, you might want to check the content of lithium ion in your electronic gadgets as well.

And always have two free cups of water (as you might have to pay for the Sprite) just in case your flight seat mate likes to use his/her computer a lot.

3 Responses to Lithium hazards in the air

  1. Pradeep 9 October, 2008 at 6:47 am #

    From the DOT website:
    Lithium batteries are considered hazardous materials because they can overheat and ignite under certain conditions. Safety testing conducted by the FAA found that current aircraft cargo fire suppression system would not be capable of suppressing a fire if a shipment of non-rechargeable lithium batteries were ignited in flight. This rule aims to reduce the risk of fires involving lithium batteries in the cabin of passenger aircraft.

    There seems to be some confusion about Li-ion battery fires. Just to clarify, these rechargeable Li-ion batteries do not contain metallic lithium unlike the non-rechargeable single-use Li batteries. I am not sure if the TSA regulations differentiate between the two. Therefore, an ABC fire extinguisher or water should work for Li-ion battery fires, but a D-class fire extinguisher is needed for non-rechargeable metallic Li battery fires.

  2. Doris 13 October, 2008 at 2:59 am #

    Hi Pradeep,
    The FAA did differentiate rechargeable lithium ion batteries against lithium metal batteries in their website. Any large non-rechargeable lithium metal batteries that contain over two grams of lithium are said to be forbidden in air travel. These are not common consumer lithium metal batteries, according to the agency.

  3. Pradeep 13 October, 2008 at 4:33 pm #

    Hi Doris,
    Thanks for the link.
    Larger rechargeable Li-ion batteries with over 25 g of ELC (equivalent Li content) are prohibited, whereas metal-Li non-rechargeables with > 2 g of Li are forbidden for air travel.

    I hope the TSA trains its employees to distinguish between the two kinds of Li batteries.

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