NEW YORK (PIX11) — Lithium-ion batteries have killed 17 New Yorkers in 2023, including three family members killed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, early Sunday morning, according to the FDNY.
Albertha West, the 81-year-old matriarch of her family, was killed, along with her 58-year-old son Michael and 33-year-old grandson Jamiyl. The FDNY said a lithium-ion battery sparked the fire. Investigators recovered the charred remains of two e-scooters, which they say belonged to one of the family members.
PIX11 News found that uncertified lithium-ion batteries are easier to purchase online than certified batteries. Some companies even sell fake authentication stickers.
As of September, all lithium-ion batteries sold in New York City must be U-L certified. However, the city cannot control what is sold online without federal regulation.
“Retailers like Amazon and Walmart need to stop selling devices that are not safety certified by a national testing laboratory,” said FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “Food-service apps like GrubHub and Uber Eats need to do more to ensure the safety of their workers who depend on these bikes to make a living.”
Shane Hall, the buyer for Bicycles NYC, recommends buying in person from a reputable retailer that will provide battery certification. If you choose to buy online, he strongly suggests skipping third-party resellers.
“Contact the manufacturer of your bike rather than going online and perusing to see if this works on your bicycle,” said Hall.
He also urges consumers never to charge batteries overnight or unattended and to stop using them if the case is swollen, cracked or dented. When in doubt, replace your battery; do not repair it. And make sure your battery is compatible with your bike.
“If you’ve got a 24-volt bicycle and a 36-volt battery, you’ve got a problem,” said Hall.
The batteries at Bicycles NYC are pricey, ranging from roughly $600 to $1000. The steep price is why many customers opt for the $200 batteries sold by third-party resellers online.
“The question is, is the money you save worth the risk of your life and potential damage to your home and your family?” asked Hall. “My answer is always no.”
Hall said to think about lithium-ion batteries like any other standard battery you use in your home.
“There’s all these different sizes and charges of just regular household batteries, but for some reason, people don’t think of my e-bike battery needing to be specific for the use I’m using it for,” said Hall.
PIX11 News contacted Walmart, GrubHub and Uber Eats for statements regarding FDNY’s comments.
In a statement, a Walmart spokesperson said:
“Walmart has zero tolerance for fraudulent sellers or the sale of products with false claims. Like our customers, we expect sellers and suppliers to provide accurate and honest descriptions about their products. When we identify a false claim, we take action to protect our customers and maintain their trust.”Walmart Spokesperson
GrubHub also responded to our request for comment, writing:
This was a horrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the victims and everyone affected.
We have always tried to create a safer, more sustainable environment in New York City and have supported several initiatives to promote fire safety and access to certified equipment.
We’ve repeatedly called on New York City and the U.S. Congress to provide safe charging hubs for delivery partners, to establish a product safety standard for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and to address concerns related to illegal, unregulated charging devices widely available for purchase through online retailers.
We’re surprised and disappointed by the commissioner’s comments given our close working relationship and because we stood with FDNY and City officials earlier this year to commit to increasing fire safety education and outreach in NYC.
No single company, manufacturer or organization is to blame for this issue and every stakeholder involved will need to be a part of the solution.GrubHub spokesperson
PIX11 News also reached out to Amazon and Uber Eats for comment but has not heard back.