New York City Council

City Council approves crackdown on lithium-ion batteries

A string of deadly fires over the past year have been caused by the batteries in New York City.

There have been many fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, including one that killed four people last year.

There have been many fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, including one that killed four people last year. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York City Council passed several new bills Wednesday aimed at cracking down on businesses selling e-bikes and e-scooters powered by uncertified lithium-ion batteries capable of sparking dangerous, potentially deadly fires.

Intro. 0019 would require all city businesses that sell e-bikes and e-scooters powered by lithium-ion batteries to post safety information and guides in storefronts and online. Violations would be subject to fines ranging from $150 to $350. The other bill, Intro. 0021, would authorize the New York City Fire Department and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to inspect shops selling e-bikes and e-scooters for potential infractions. In addition to requiring businesses to keep careful records on devices sold, the legislation would also allow the city to increase fines or “padlock” products for three or more illegal sales, leases and rentals found.

“Every agency is short on inspectors and the more eyes on the problem the better,” said City Council Member Gale Brewer, the sponsor of both measures.

The passage of the bills came after the death of 27-year-old Fazil Khan, a journalist who was killed by a lithium-ion battery fire in his Harlem apartment late last week. At least 17 people were injured in the fire. Khan’s death was the first linked to the batteries this year, but the problem has been ongoing. Over 250 fires and 18 deaths were connected to lithium-ion batteries last year, according to the fire department.

E-bikes and e-scooters have become increasingly popular in New York City since the City Council legalized their use in 2020 – particularly among delivery workers drawn to their convenience and economical benefits. But the lithium-ion batteries that power these micromobility devices are capable of exploding and starting fires if damaged or charged incorrectly, or if the batteries are particularly low quality.

In early February, New York City Fire Department Commissioner Laura Kavanagh announced that lithium-ion batteries have become a leading cause of fires and fire deaths in the city.

The legislation that was just passed was the latest in a string of actions the City Council has taken to try and prevent future fires, including creating a trade-in program for batteries and e-bikes, passing a law to prohibit the sale, lease and rental of e-bikes, e-scooters and their batteries that don’t meet industry safety standards. Gov. Kathy Hochul too has said she plans to propose a bill banning the sale of mobility devices powered by uncertified lithium-ion batteries.

Brewer cautioned that the City Council and its bills pertaining to the issue are only capable of going so far in curbing the use of poorly manufactured batteries. The only way to fully rein in the danger they pose is through federal action. Lawmakers would need to pass legislation to set strong federal standards for manufacturers. Such a bill already exists. A bipartisan measure co-sponsored by Rep. Ritchie Torres passed in committee last year, but has yet to be considered by the full House.

“What we really need is federal legislation,” Brewer said. “As much effort as we put into this, we still have the online issue, and hopefully it will be addressed at some point. In the interim, we have to do what we can locally.”

One controversial measure that would require users to register e-bikes and e-scooters with the city is still under consideration.

“That legislation is going through the process right now,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “The council is extremely concerned with the legality of these batteries and want to make sure that the city is as safe as possible.”