Coast Guard Issues Lithium Battery Safety Alert

Posted on 3/14/2022 by Lauren Scott

The US Coast Guard released a marine safety alert (Safety Alert 01-22) on March 10, following what they call a “potentially catastrophic” fire involving lithium batteries in transportation. The alert reminds shippers, carriers, and industry stakeholders about the importance of compliance with lithium battery shipping regulations.

The fire occurred on August 19, 2021, when a shipping container loaded with discarded lithium batteries caught fire on the highway en route to the Port of Virginia for a maritime voyage. Investigators determined that the batteries burned hot enough to create a hole in the metal shipping container, resulting in significant container damage and loss of cargo.

Inaccurate information on the bill of lading impeded the efforts of emergency responders; the shipment was described as “computer parts” on shipping papers. DOT PHMSA later concluded that the shipper failed to properly package, mark, label, or placard the lithium battery shipment.

The Coast Guard’s Safety Alert urges shippers and other stakeholders to take precautions to ensure safe transportation of lithium batteries, including:
  • Be aware of unique requirements for damaged or defective batteries and batteries sent for disposal/recycling
  • Review relevant IMDG Code special provisions when preparing vessel shipments
  • Protect all shipped cells and batteries against short circuit
  • Utilize available guidance from regulatory agencies like US DOT, EPA
Chicago DOT hazmat training

What Starts a Lithium Battery Fire?

An unscientific review of hazmat incident reports involving lithium batteries provides us with a list of circumstances that frequently precede a fire.  

Typical triggers for lithium battery fires include:
  • Rough handling – jostling and drops;
  • Short circuits – from damage, improper storage, or metal dust from manufacturing standards;
  • Overheating – extreme temperatures in cargo holds, on tarmacs, or at loading dock;
  • Humid and wet conditions – rainwater (especially combined with salty air) can cause short circuits and lead to thermal runaway even if the battery has not been damaged; and
  • Physical damage – from shredding and dismantling during recycling operations.

Shippers can only control so much. But by understanding and correctly applying the requirements for safely shipping lithium batteries, shippers do their part to ensure products reach their destination without incident.

Shipping Lithium Batteries Training

Ship lithium batteries? Whether you ship batteries alone, in equipment, or with equipment by ground, air, or vessel, be confident you know the latest US and international regulations that apply to your shipments.

The Shipping Lithium Batteries online course guides shippers through Lion's 10-Step© process to offer lithium batteries for transportation in full compliance with 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code requirements.  

Tags: hazmat incident, lithium battery, PHMSA, USCG

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