Washington, DC - December 17, 2013 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today warned about a serious and growing problem – cell phone batteries that rapidly expand and even explode, causing fires, burns and other injuries. Schumer said that there have been over 60 reported incidents of phone batteries smoking, catching fire or exploding over the last two years – and those are just the ones that were voluntarily reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), so the problem could be much more wide spread. Incidents have included cell phones exploding in pockets; while being held against a person’s ear; or on furniture where they can cause a fire. According to published reports and industry experts, the aftermarket batteries that are most likely to have problems are knockoffs and counterfeit models, usually made in China. Schumer today called for the CPSC to work with manufacturers and other industry partners to determine the true scope of the problem, and determine if further actions need to be taken against the manufacturers of the aftermarket batteries that have malfunctioned.
Schumer requested that the CPSC investigate this matter further to determine the true scope of the problem, and consider taking additional action such as issuing widespread warnings about certain manufacturers and potentially banning certain manufacturers from importing some of their products, if they are determined to be truly dangerous.
“Consumers should not have to feel as if their cell phone is a ticking time-bomb, ready to explode at any minute,” said Schumer. “We must do everything to protect consumers from this exploding problem and so today I am urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate these dangerous aftermarket batteries, and determine if further action is necessary. Cell phones are ubiquitous, and we must make sure they are safe.”
“Dozens of incidents involving exploding cell phones have been reported to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC),” said Chuck Bell, Programs Director of Consumers Union. “We urge the CPSC to carefully monitor the situation, and consider what steps that can be taken to mitigate and reduce any hazards to consumers.”
Schumer noted that the problem of exploding cell phone batteries was a serious and widespread problem several years ago, and he commended the CPSC for quickly acting to get companies to modify their standards and all but eliminate the risk at the time. However the problem has clearly returned.
Recently, there have been numerous reports of cell phones exploding due to the lithium batteries expanding. According to the CPSC, over the past two years there have been 61 reports of mobile device battery fires, smoking or swelling. Schumer noted that these are only the cases that have been reported to CPSC and there may be additional cases that we are unaware of.
The CPSC’s published reports include these incidents occurring to cell phones while being charged, while being kept in the individual’s pocket, while sitting on a shelf and more. Many of the reports describe “swelling,” “exploding,” “popping,” “battery expanding,” “burning,” as well as other similar descriptions of the cell phone. Media reports pointed to a 2010 incident, in Texas, in which a cell phone exploded in a man’s ear while he was talking on the phone. More recently, this past February in Minnesota, a middle school student’s cell phone battery exploded in his pocket. The eighth grader recovered with second degree burns.
According to published reports, many of the exploding cell phones contain aftermarket batteries as opposed to the batteries that are sold with the cell phones or by major manufacturers.
Schumer today wrote to the CPSC and asked that the agency work with manufacturers and other industry partners to determine the true scope of the problem and launch an investigation into this public safety risk. Should the CPSC find a pattern of significant problems, they can bar the importation of batteries from certain manufacturers, and also issue widespread public safety warnings.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:
Chairwoman Inez Moore Tenenbaum
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East-West Highway, Room 817
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
June 23, 2013
Dear Chairwoman Tenenbaum,
Given the recent resurgence of malfunctioning lithium ion cell phone batteries, I write today to request that the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigate causes of and safeguards against of this disturbing trend. Given the ubiquitous nature of cell phones in everyday American life, this increase in these dangerous malfunctions poses a threat to hundreds of millions of Americans.
As you know, the problem of exploding cell phone batteries was a serious and widespread problem several years ago. I commend the CPSC quickly acting to get companies to modify their standards and all but eliminate the risk at the time. However recent stories such as a middle school student suffering second degree phones from a cell phone exploding in his pocket raise concern that this threat has resurfaced – 61 such events have been reported voluntarily to the CPSC in the past two years of exploding cell phones, and countless others have no doubt gone unreported. I request that the CPSC investigate if there is a growing trend in lithium battery explosions; and if so, what batteries, phones or behavior increase the risk of cell phone fires.
The number of cell phone users in the United States exceeds our population, making this problem for virtually all Americans. I hope that the CPSC can launch a thorough and swift investigation into this public safety risk, and do everything it its power to prevent a widespread public hazard from one of Americans’ most trusted electronic devices.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator