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How to Ship Recalled or Damaged Lithium Batteries

Posted on September 17, 2019 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

The hazards posed by lithium batteries in transportation are well known to those in the hazardous materials community. Increasingly, the general public is being made aware of the risks through headline news, frightening YouTube videos, and well-publicized manufacturer recalls.

For retailers and others who sell lithium battery powered devices and equipment, damaged and recalled batteries present a unique shipping challenge. 

Why are Damaged Lithium Batteries Dangerous to Ship?

Lithium metal and lithium ion batteries have high energy density, and if they short circuit can generate extreme heat. They are prone to “thermal runaway.” This occurs with strongly exothermic reactions: increased temperature from the chemicals catching fire releases energy which releases more heat. It’s a self-perpetuating loop that makes these types of fires very difficult to extinguish.

Learn more about how lithium batteries can become a safety hazard at home and in the workplace. Check out the video Real Dangerous of Lithium Batteries on our YouTube channel.

Who Ships Damaged Lithium Batteries?

The most common scenario for shipping damaged lithium batteries is the need for reverse logistics—returning batteries to a manufacturer to be replaced, recycled, or properly disposed of. Lithium batteries may become damaged while a device is in the customer’s possession—if they get wet or dropped, for example. Or, the batteries may be subject to a larger recall effort initiated by the manufacturer.

Any business that sells lithium battery powered equipment should be ready for the possibility that customers may return devices with damaged batteries or bring back their recalled items for a replacement.

US DOT requires hazmat training for employees who package and ship lithium batteries, including damaged or recalled lithium batteries. 

Some recent lithium battery related recall actions include:

Important: No Air Transport for Damaged Lithium Batteries

Lithium cells and batteries that have been damaged or identified by the manufacturer as being defective for safety reasons may NOT be trans­ported by air. These lithium batteries must be shipped by ground (highway or rail) or by vessel, and must meet certain conditions specified at 49 CFR 173.185(f):
  • Each cell and battery must be placed in individ­ual, non-metallic inner packagings that completely enclose the cell/battery;
  • The inner packagings must be surrounded by non-combusti­ble, non-conductive, and absorbent cushioning material; and
  • Each inner packaging must be individually placed in UN specification packaging meeting Packing Group I performance level (i.e., rated “X”). The outer packaging may be:
    • Boxes made of metal, wood, or solid plastic, or
    • Drums made of metal, plywood, or plastic.

Unique Marking and Labeling Rules

lithium battery labelThe boxes or drums containing damaged lithium cells/batteries must be marked and labeled as any fully regulated lithium battery package. This includes:
 
  • The Proper Shipping Name,
  • The UN identification number,
  • The shipper’s OR consignee’s name and address, and
  • The Lithium Battery Class 9 label
 
In addition to the standard required markings and labels, the outer package must be marked with an indication that the package con­tains a “damaged/defective lithium ion/ metal battery or cell,” as appropriate. These characters must be at least 12 mm (0.47 in.) high.

UN Testing: An Important Exception

While lithium batteries must typically meet rigid test standards found in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria before they can be transported, damaged or defective lithium batteries are not subject to this requirement.

Training to Ship Lithium Batteries Big or Small 

Be confident that your personnel are properly trained to offer lithium batteries for transportation. Lion’s popular Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course is updated regularly to cover the latest regulations that shippers must know under 49 CFR (US DOT), the IATA DGR, and the IMDG Code. 

New! Ship excepted lithium batteries by ground, air, or vessel? We’ve got a course just for you! The new Shipping Excepted Lithium Batteries Online Course will help you identify the requirements you must know, without getting bogged down or confused by rules for fully regulated lithium batteries.
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