Discarded Lithium Batteries Catches Fire

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The U.S. Coast Guard is warning about the hazards of transporting discarded lithium batteries after a container illegally loaded them caught fire while en route to the Port of Virginia, where it was set to be loaded onto a ship.

Loss of cargo and container damage

The container was not loaded on a ship at the time. Rather, the container was being transported on a chassis from Raleigh, North Carolina when the batteries caught fire on the highway on August 19, 2021, resulting in loss of the cargo and significant damage to the shipping container.

It seems shipping industry may have avoided another disaster since the container was intended for a maritime voyage to a port in China via a foreign-flagged containership.

Upon initial investigation of the container, the responding fire department determined that the heat produced from the fire burned hot enough to create a hole through the metal container’s structure.

A possible catastrophic incident! 

The bill of lading listed “computer parts,” not lithium batteries, making responding to the fire more challenging. The Coast Guard said the incident could have been potentially catastrophic had the container caught fire after being loaded aboard the container ship.

Further investigation by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) determined that the shipper failed to properly placard, label, mark and package the lithium batteries, and identified the cause of fire to be residual charge/full circuit, which led to a thermal increase.

Recommendations

The Coast Guard seeks to increase awareness of these hazards, and strongly recommends units and other stakeholders:

  • Disseminate this safety alert to all
    marine safety personnel and
    stakeholders within their respective
    port(s).
  • Have awareness of the IMDG Special provisions 376 and 377, which address additional marking requirements for lithium batteries being transported and that are damaged or defective, or being disposed of or recycled.
  • Ensure damaged/defective batteries shall be packaged IAW P911 or LP 906.
  • Ensure batteries for disposal or recycling adhere to P908 or LP 904.
  • Ensure all packaging provisions state: cells and batteries shall be protected against short circuit.
  • Utilize PHMSA’s Lithium Battery Guide Lithium Battery Guide for Shippers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance on Used
    Lithium-Ion Batteries.
  • Have awareness of Appendix A to Subpart D of 49CFR107, which contains guidelines for civil penalties to pursue enforcement or recommend follow-on action to DOT PHMSA.

Safety alert

A Coast Guard Marine Safety Alert, Safety Alert 01-22, has been issued to increase awareness about the hazards of transporting and discarding lithium ion batteries. The safety alert can be found here.

The safety alert comes after the loss of the Felicity Ace car carrier, which was reported to be carrying electric vehicles with lithium ion batteries when it caught fire and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, officials said the burning lithium ion batteries had complicated firefighting efforts.

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Source: USCG

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