E-bike battery fires this year have killed more in NYC than in 2022: FDNY
Lithium-ion batteries from e-bikes and similar devices have fueled 92 fires, injured 64 people, and caused nine deaths so far this year – almost as many as the 10 fatalities in 2022 and 2021 combined, FDNY data show.
Four people perished last month, when a May 7 blaze tore through an Upper Manhattan apartment building.
In April, a 7-year-old and a teenager died in a Queens house fire sparked by the battery on an e-bike, officials said.
In that instance, people were forced to leap out of their Windows to escape the inferno, which broke out inside the vestibule of the two-story building at 25-71 46th St. in Astoria and quickly spread up the stairs, fire officials said.
On Jan. 20, Modesto Collado, 63, was killed and 10 others hurt after a charging e-bike battery fueled a fast-moving fire that tore through a home in East Elmhurst, Queens.
Lithium-ion battery blazes also claimed one person in the Bronx and another in Brooklyn.
In 2021, four persons died and 79 were injured in 104 lithium-ion battery-fueled blazes in homes, fire officials said.
Last year, those numbers took a concerning climb: six people were killed and 142 hurt in 220 battery-related fires.
Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) has introduced legislation to ban electric scooters and bikes until safeguards are in place.
“The reckless rush to legalize e-mobility devices without regulation has unleashed a terrifying wave of fires, injuries, and tragic deaths,” Holden told The Post. “It’s heartbreaking to witness the consequences of the previous City Council’s ill-advised actions as these incidents become more and more common.”
Holden wants electric scooters and e-bikes to be “registered, licensed, inspected, and insured like any other motor vehicle. If we fail to take action, we’ll continue to witness the loss of precious lives.”
City landlords were required to post an FDNY safety guide by April 30 warning apartment dwellers about fires caused by e-bike batteries.
E-bikes should not be charged overnight or when residents are out, nor should they be stored near Windows or exits, the FDNY has warned.
They should also have approved certification markings.
The owners of one luxe 44-story building on West 57th Street last week informed its tenants that “Effective immediately, electric micro-mobility devices, including but not limited to electric scooters, electric bicycles, personal e-mobility devices, light electrical vehicle applications, and any other devices with a lithium-ion battery, can no longer be stored in bike rooms.”
“It’s a Smart move because these lithium-ion batteries are scary,” a building tenant told The Post. “If one explodes they can all go up in flames.”
E-Bikes, Batteries and Blazes Spark Concern in NYC — Why Do They Start Fires?
A weekend fire that injured over three dozen people — and forced firefighters to use ropes to pluck people from a 20th-story window — is drawing attention to a rising concern in New York City: battery fires that can arise in the electric bikes and scooters that have proliferated here.
City officials are considering new laws after the fire department counted nearly 200 blazes and six fire deaths this year tied to problems with lithium-ion batteries in such “micromobility” devices.
WHAT ARE THESE BATTERIES? ARE THEY THE SAME TECH USED IN PHONES AND CARS?
Lithium-ion batteries are a Nobel Prize-winning innovation that entered the market in the early 1990s. Hailed as rechargeable, lightweight, powerful, durable and safe, the batteries have been envisioned as a key to greening the world’s energy supply by storing energy, including from the sun, wind and other renewable sources.
The technology has woven its way into many people’s everyday lives, powering phones, laptop computers, vehicles and more.
The patient count jumped again on Monday, with city officials announcing a total of 46 civilians, firefighters and police officers were injured. NBC New York’s Jessica Cunnington reports.
WHY CAN THEY CATCH FIRE?
The batteries’ electrolyte — a solution that lets electrical current flow — is flammable, explains Massachusetts Institute of Technology materials chemistry professor Dr. Donald Sadoway. The substance was chosen for its ability to handle the voltage involved, but fires can happen if the batteries are overcharged, overheated, defective or damaged, for instance.
Over the years, problems have periodically triggered fires involving laptops, cellphones, hoverboards, electric vehicles, airplanes and battery power storage installations. A U.N. aviation agency said in 2016 that lithium-ion batteries shouldn’t be shipped on passenger planes.
Battery industry group leader James Greenberger notes that other energy sources aren’t trouble-free, and he says there’s nothing inherently unsafe about the batteries. But he said the industry is concerned about the fires lately in New York and worries that they could scare off consumers.
“This shouldn’t be happening and we need to figure out what’s going on,” said Greenberger, the executive director of NAATBatt — the North American trade association for advanced battery technology developers, manufacturers and users.
Tenants Angry for Answers From Management as NYC High-Rise Injury Count Hits 46
WHY ARE E-BIKES AND SCOOTERS GETTING SCRUTINY IN NEW YORK?
The city has seen “an exponential increase” in fires related to faulty lithium-ion batteries in recent years, Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn said. He said there have been more deaths and injuries already this year than in the past three years combined.
“It’s a big issue, he said at a news conference Monday, describing fires that occur without warning, grow rapidly and are tough to extinguish.
The batteries fail almost in an explosive way — it’s like a blowtorch,” he said.
Recent e-bike fires are sparking calls for New York City to do more to keep delivery drivers safe. NBC New York’s Rana Novini reports.
Saturday’s fire in a Manhattan apartment was sparked by a malfunctioning e-bike battery that residents were attempting to charge and left unattended while they fell asleep, he said. They were trapped when the battery, plugged in by the front door, caught fire, Flynn said.
Electric bikes and scooters have become popular, non-gasoline-burning ways to make deliveries, commute and zip around a city that has promoted cycling in recent decades. For the “deliveristas” who carry restaurant takeout orders, the bikes are crucial tools of the trade.
“What these workers have learned over the years, and they know it well, is that, like any equipment, it requires the maintenance required,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, a spokesperson for worker advocacy group Los Deliveristas Unidos. She said many workers have used their batteries for years without a hitch.
WHAT’S CAUSING THE PROBLEM?
There are different opinions. Greenberger, the industry group director, suggests there’s too little quality control on some of the largely imported batteries. Sadoway, the scientist, believes “we don’t have the appropriate protective measures” on e-bikes and scooters themselves to monitor the batteries for problems.
Colón Hernández, the delivery worker advocate, thinks there need to be tougher standards around the batteries, such as regulations for businesses that sell or service them.
than three dozen people were injured, two critically, in a fire at a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan caused by a faulty battery, fire officials said.
WHAT IS NEW YORK CITY DOING ABOUT THIS?
The Fire Department has repeatedly issued warnings and safety tips over the past year. Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh asked the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission in August to consider new regulations. Mayor Eric Adams pointed again to the CPSC on Monday.
“The responsibility of navigating safe and unsafe batteries on the market should not fall to hard-working New Yorkers,” the mayor, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Some city lawmakers want to take their own steps.
A City Council committee has set a Nov. 14 hearing on various proposals. Some would require public education campaigns or safety reports. Another would prohibit the sale of some secondhand lithium-ion batteries, or e-bike or scooter batteries without certain seals of approval.
A young girl has died following another fire caused by a lithium-ion battery, according to New York City officials. NBC New York’s Melissa Colorado reports.
Meanwhile, fire officials continue to urge everyone not to leave batteries to charge unattended, to check that they’re not damaged or near a heat source, and to make sure the batteries, chargers, cords and devices are all from the same manufacturer and used as instructed.
“We understand the benefits that these batteries pose to our communities, and we want to encourage use of them, but safe use,” Flynn said. “So understand that it does pose a danger, and just use them safely.”
Certified or Not?
Without that information, experts are left to do a lot of guessing. And the first assumption is that bikes with certified batteries are less likely to catch fire. These are the bikes you will find in any traditional bike shop or from a major name-brand retailer.
But most e-bikes in New York do not have certified batteries. Instead, they’re typically cheaper devices that are often bought through local shops ordered directly from pop-up factories in China or from sites like Alibaba. Ramirez said virtually all of the e-bikes delivery workers in the city use come from the same factory in China, which will put whatever branding on it the buyer wants as long as they purchase more than a thousand bikes.
Although one may assume the e-bikes delivery workers buy are cheaper, this isn’t necessarily the case, reflecting a long line of literature that lower income urban and minority workers pay more for the same or inferior products. A new delivery-ready e-bike will cost about 450,500 plus tax, Ramirez said, before adding on necessary upgrades like a rack and second battery, helmet, GPS, and better lights. All in, these e-bikes with accessories cost 3,000, more than enough to walk into a local bike shop and buy a name-brand e-bike with a certified battery. Even the 450,500 price tag is competitive with entry-level name brand e-bikes.
But delivery workers can’t simply buy a 3,000 Trek for their shifts because those bikes are not designed for the work they do. Retail bikes are typically for commuting or weekend fun rides, often without swappable batteries, and have locked down architecture with bespoke parts that makes repairs difficult and expensive. And few local bike shops offer financing programs, a critical feature for delivery workers who don’t have thousands of dollars in spare cash to buy a bike.
That being said, there is no question the batteries themselves cost less on the retail side. And that is a classic case of you get what you pay for, Fritz told Motherboard. He said a typical high-quality e-bike battery will cost between 250 and 270 to manufacture, and traditionally manufacturers roughly triple the price to translate it into a retail price to pay for all the other costs of building bikes and doing business. As a result, Fritz said battery packs are around 900 of the price of the e-bike at the retail side, which makes the math on the 450,500 bikes tough to pencil.
One of the biggest corners getting cut, Fritz suspects, is with the separators, a membrane that allows ions to pass from the anode to the cathode and vice versa during charge and discharge. If the manufacturing facility doesn’t have “very strict controls” around the cleanliness of the production process, Fritz said, “a contaminant can land on that separator compromising its integrity over time. Eventually, that could result in a short circuit resulting in a thermal runaway resulting in a fire.”
Another potential problem point is the battery management system, or BMS. It’s a program run on a small chip in the battery that manages its load to prevent electricity being released too quickly, too slowly, or overcharging, all of which could result in a thermal runaway.
Those problems exist even when a bike is brand new. And while there’s disagreement on how much these differences really matter for battery safety, there seems to be unanimous agreement that what happens after the bike is sold is the real danger.
Never Touch the Battery
Ramirez’s wife, sister, and brother-in-law also work as e-bike mechanics. In the seven years they have been working on the bikes, he’s never had any issues with the batteries. All the problems, Ramirez says, come from unscrupulous mechanics messing with the batteries or poor charging practices causing electrical fires that then spread to the batteries, fires that would get classified as battery fires by the fire department but have a different root cause.
The cheaper e-bike market has its own ecosystem of repair shops, DIY modifications, and hackers to make the bikes go faster, appear legal, or simply fix broken parts. A key problem, Ramirez and other experts say, is that when a battery gets damaged in a crash or starts losing charge, unscrupulous mechanics will offer to fix the batteries for a cut-rate price of about 100, an attractive proposition to delivery workers making less than minimum wage versus buying a replacement battery for 500 or more, especially since workers pay for all their repairs and equipment.
But “riders really shouldn’t try to modify their e-bikes and scooters,” Frederickson said, even for e-bikes from reputable brands with safety certifications. “These are complex systems with a battery operating in conjunction with a motor and a charger, certifications are with the entire system, and if you modify the motor drive, it can have cascading effects and safety implications down the road.” Most dangerously, modifications can appear to “work” for a short period of time before a critical failure results in an explosion. Batteries are also more prone to thermal runaway if they’re damaged. Likewise, Ramirez never recommends anyone repairs an e-bike battery or pays anyone to do it for them.
Safe Charging Practices vs. Reality
Most delivery workers in the city run 10 to 15 hour shifts with no protections for bathroom breaks, meal breaks, or minimum wages. Even if they are aware of industry best practices to always charge the battery from the charger provided at purchase, they don’t have time to follow it.
“Most of the workers live in Queens, Bronx, Manhattan and work in the middle of Manhattan, downtown, Borough Hall,” Ramirez said. “It’s very hard for them going back to get another battery and go back to work. And the stores know that. So they start charging for charging batteries.”
All over Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, small restaurants and parking garages provide charging services for delivery workers. For a fee of around 50 a month, delivery workers can charge their e-bike batteries there where it is more convenient. Many such locations have spaces for 50 batteries or more, meaning a cool 5000,500 a month in mostly profit.
The catch is these facilities rarely practice safe charging methods. These areas are typically an empty room with racks and racks of chargers, extension cords and power strips stretching across the wall, just about the most dangerous arrangement to overload the power strips or extension cords and spark a fire which then spreads the batteries. Many of these rooms are also back rooms or basements without ventilation, making any potential fire even more dangerous. In June, fire marshals found more than 100 batteries in a fire on 51st St and 11th Avenue.
A typical charging hub for delivery workers. The racks are lined with chargers hooked up via extension cords and power strips. Photo: Manny Ramirez
Ramirez said Los Deliveristas Unidos are working on converting some space into a safe charging location, which requires working with a licensed electrician and Con Edison. Few restaurants and parking garages that provide these spaces are willing to go through that hassle and expense.
Why Fox News wants you to be afraid of electric bikes
Fox News is no stranger to the tactic of fearmongering as a way to stir up its base. But the media network’s latest misdirection campaign attempts to use fear to attack a surprising new target: electric bicycles.
Electric bicycles are essentially normal bicycles but with the addition of a small electric helper motor and a lithium-ion battery for energy storage. They go faster than most pedal bikes while requiring less effort from the rider, which has made them a popular alternative vehicle in cities and suburbs. They’ve found favor as cheaper car replacements for many people. As a type of small EV, or electric vehicle, it’s not exactly a wonder that Fox News would put e-bikes somewhere on its enemies list.
But with a misleading story running last week entitled “How e-bikes are exploding and killing people,” the media giant leaves little room for doubt about just how far they’ll go with misdirection to try and scare people away from the fastest-growing form of low-cost, efficient, and effective transportation.
It’s true: All the long–term trends show that electric bicycle sales are skyrocketing. They’re outselling electric cars in the US, and in some areas, e-bikes are soon set to outsell all cars – gasoline or electric. They’re helping replace the tired image of Americans driving their single-occupant SUVs a mile down the road for a gallon of milk.
That makes them ripe for Fox News to hold up as some form of boogeyman to scare up their base, a group that is famously resistant to change. And e-bikes are exactly the kind of change that Fox News would vilify – a low-cost technology that helps Americans of all socioeconomic levels get around without a clutching dependence on Big Oil and Big Auto.
The basis of Fox News’ attack on electric bicycles is cherry-picked fire data in New York City.
You might have heard about electric bicycle fires in the news lately, as it is a topic that is getting increasing coverage despite the relatively few events. Even with minimal incidents compared to the number of e-bikes rolling around the city, examining any threat to public safety is certainly warranted. Between the dense urban population of NYC and the higher-than-average number of e-bikes used in the city, the issue has become a growing concern.
What you might not know (since it is much less frequently reported) is that most of these electric bike fires aren’t related to electric bikes at all – they’re much cheaper electric scooters. Most of the pictures of these fire aftermaths show charred husks of cheap Chinese e-scooters.
But regardless of the semantics, the underlying concern is this: Why do these batteries catch on fire, and how concerned should the public be?
Why can e-bikes sometimes catch on fire?
So what’s going on here? There are hundreds of thousands of high-quality e-bikes and e-scooters in the US with battery certifications and proper safety protocols. Even so, low-cost e-scooters (and yes, sometimes e-bikes too) have been increasingly imported to the US with low-quality lithium-ion batteries that, in very rare cases, have caught fire. It’s usually when people have used the wrong third-party chargers or have tried to do at-home repairs on the complicated battery systems.
That distinction isn’t overly complicated. It’s not that it requires any significant amount of nuance to understand. But it also isn’t as flashy as a Fox News headline of “How e-bikes are exploding and killing people.”
And it’s not that Fox News doesn’t realize the incredibly small size of the actual risk. A single line admission gets tossed near the very end of the article, presumably in a halfhearted attempt to claim some form of balance: “In the meantime, it’s important to note that the vast majority of e-bikes on the market are safe and reliable when used as intended and maintained properly.”
By Fox News’ own admission, there had been a single fatality in NYC this year from this spate of e-bike or e-scooter fires at the time of publishing.
But even while paying lip service to the small proportion of e-bike fires within the larger e-bike population, the story fails to properly frame the impact of the threat. For instance, did you know that cyclists in NYC are over 10 times more likely to be killed by a car than to be killed by an e-bike fire? In 2021, there was a single e-bike fire fatality compared to 19 cyclists killed by cars in NYC. That same year, there were over 200 pedestrians or micromobility (bike, scooters, mopeds, etc.) riders killed in NYC.
I don’t mean to unjustly minimize the real risk of e-bike fires but rather to justifiably demonstrate how minimal the risk truly is. Just like how there was a spate of Samsung cell phones with lithium-ion batteries catching on fire a few years ago, the actual risk was significantly smaller than the reporting made it feel. Dozens of phones out of millions is a similar ratio to the e-bike and e-scooter scenario now.
Does Fox News actually care about transportation dangers?
It is true that NYC has seen approximately one dozen deaths due to lithium-ion battery fires in micromobility vehicles in the last few years. And there have been legitimate, balanced reports from other news organizations about e-bike fires. In the same period, though, many hundreds of pedestrians have been killed by cars and trucks in the city. Thousands of pedestrians are killed by cars in the US each year. Often dozens per day. Dozens.
But that doesn’t play into the Fox News narrative, and so it doesn’t get coverage. It also doesn’t get included for reference to understand the size of the e-bike fire risk.
Top comment by Kenz300 x
Cities need to do more to encourage people to ride bicycles. Safe protected bike lanes and trails are needed so adults and children can ride safely. Speak up for bicycles in your community. Bicycles make life and cities better. Ask your local transportation planner and elected officials to support more protected bike lanes and trails. Children should be riding a bicycle to school and not be driven in a minivan.
Are electric bike batteries safe?
That’s because when you tell people the truth, that you’re between 10 to 30 times more likely to die by being hit by a car while walking around the city than from an e-bike battery fire, it doesn’t promote the right type of fear for Fox News. It shows that the true villain isn’t the e-bike but rather the car.
The truth doesn’t scare people away from effective, low-cost alternative transportation. Instead, it shows the very fact that Fox News wants to hide: that e-bikes aren’t the problem – cars are. E-bikes, in fact, are the solution. Steps are being taken to reduce battery fires, but even if they weren’t, a drastic increase in e-bikes used to replace cars would still save lives by reducing fatalities. It’s simple math.
What You NEED To Know To Avoid Electric Bike Fires
If Fox News cared about saving lives or protecting people, it wouldn’t pander fear about NYC’s single-digit deaths per year from lithium-ion batteries in micromobility vehicles. It would highlight the city’s hundreds of deaths per year from cars killing pedestrians. But you won’t hear about that because the goal isn’t to save lives. It’s to use fear and misdirection in an attempt to resist a changing transportation paradigm that is slowly shedding our nation’s dependence on Big Oil and Big Auto.
Fear keeps people hooked, and Fox News is well practiced at wielding it. When someone peddles that fear in an attempt to prop up a boogeyman, we should always ask ourselves why.
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