Counterfeit curse, root of lithium fire risks warns Johnson

Marine insurers have been warned of the dangers of the transport of lithium and lithium-Ion batteries with one expert warning the issue is all too often defective damaged or the rising number of counterfeit batteries now in circulation.

Delegates at the International Union of Marine Insurance’s (IUMI) annual conference in Edinburgh were told that lithium-ion batteries are now commonplace in homes and offices across the world but the lack of clear regulation and the need to declare them as a cargo unless they are of a certain size is posing a real risk to cargos being moved by sea, road and air.

Jay Johnson (pic) of Labelmaster Services told the conference’s Cargo Workshop that the regulations and standards were being developed by the United Nations and that there were new rules proposed in the future but at present there was no standard approach.

“In the US they are described as hazardous material while in the rest of the world they use the term dangerous goods.” he explained. “I do n to thing that the US will adapt to fit with the rest of the world so if they cannot agree in a term to describe them then you can see the issue with agreeing a set of standards for their carriage.”

He explained lithium, is corrosive and when it comes into contact with water emits a flammable and toxic gas.

“Lithium batteries have been around since 1991 so they are not new,” he added. “The key is energy storage and if they are defective or counterfeit, they can cause a real problem. It is a problem that is not going away anytime soon, as energy soties is the key to the future.”

However, Johnson said it is the counterfeit and defective batteries which cause the biggest issues.

“If you need a new battery for your laptop and the replacement is $150 and then you look online and find another which is considerably cheaper you have to ask how it has been made so cheaply and what they have done in terms of the circuits and the internal standards.”

He added at present the regulations did not need shippers to declare that containers or packages held lithium or lithium-ion batteries if they were of a certain size. The problem came when a number of packages were packed in the same vessel creating a much larger risk.

“The issue is that when things go bad with lithium batteries, they go bad. They can overheat and self-ignite. Once ignited they burn at a very high temperature. When they go the vent toxic gasses. It is the ignition source and the fuel for the fire.

“It is getting more attention as better get larger and larger.”

Johnson concluded: “Most of the problems with Lithium and lithium-ion batteries come from damage, defective and counterfeit devices and they are a real challenge.”