Heard Around Town

Jumaane Williams calls for fire retardant storage cases for lithium ion batteries

The Public Advocate wants New York City to spend $1.3 million to purchase the cases to protect users from fires triggered by the batteries.

The New York City Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management met for a budget hearing on Friday

The New York City Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management met for a budget hearing on Friday Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams Friday proposed funding the purchase and distribution of fire retardant storage cases for storing lithium ion batteries, one of the leading causes of fires in New York City last year.

“Lithium ion batteries are difficult to contain and the fire can spread very quickly putting civilians and firefighters in danger,” Williams said at a City Council Committee on Fire and Emergency Management budget hearing.

Fire Department Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said the department has been testing a range of storage products intended to safely contain the batteries, but none have been successful so far. Lithium batteries are now a leading cause of fires, she added.

E-bikes were linked to more than 250 fires and 18 deaths in 2023, an increase of 20% from the previous year. According to city officials, 65,000 working New Yorkers use e-bikes to deliver for apps like Uber eats, GrubHub, and Doordash. Electric bikes are an affordable option for delivery but many people have been found to use faulty charging systems to operate their vehicles. In January, Kavanagh, shut down a Queens bike store that was selling “Frankenstein” batteries, unregulated and uncertified batteries that pose huge fire safety concerns.

Williams is asking the administration and council to fund the purchase of $1.3 million dollars worth of storage bags, which would provide a bag for each of the 65,000 delivery drivers. His plan to ensure that drivers use the resource is to have delivery apps mandate the use of fire storage bags in order to keep working. 

Contamination has been a big concern for the city, as byproducts released from the battery pose a risk to firefighters and civilians. “E-bikes and their batteries produce noxious fumes and chemical byproducts that can contaminate firefighter bunker gear and place firefighters at increased risk of illness,” said Council Member Joann Ariola, chair of the Council's Fire and Emergency Committee. Studies are being done to see what contaminants come out of gear, however, exact information is not yet available. Recommendations are for firefighters to be fully encapsulated before they go into these fires.