The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued new standards to strengthen safety conditions for the shipment of lithium cells and batteries that will become mandatory within six months.
It said the changes, some of which focus specifically on shipments by air, were intended to “better ensure that lithium cells and batteries are able to withstand normal transport conditions and are packaged to reduce the possibility of damage that could lead to an unsafe situation”.
The rules are intended to also provide a greater level of consistency with international standards, including the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by air.
Lithium batteries have been implicated in a number of fatal and near-fatal incidents over the years, including the crash of UPS Airlines flight 006 in 2010, because of the potential of damaged lithium batteries to spontaneously combust.
The Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) developed the rules in close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It said voluntary compliance was encouraged upon publication of the final rule; however mandatory compliance is effective six months after publication.
PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said: “Our continuing efforts to harmonise US Hazardous Materials Regulations with international standards improve consistency in procedures and terminology when shipping lithium batteries around the globe.
Final Rule on Lithium Batteries
The department said its so-called “final rule” would: Enhance packaging and hazard communication requirements for lithium batteries transported by air; replace equivalent lithium content with Watt-hours for lithium ion cells and batteries; adopt separate shipping descriptions for lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries; revise provisions for the transport of small and medium lithium cells and batteries including cells and batteries packed with, or contained in, equipment; revise the requirements for the transport of lithium batteries for disposal or recycling; harmonize the provisions for the transport of low production and prototype lithium cells and batteries with the ICAO Technical Instructions and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code; and adopt new provisions for the transport of damaged, defective, and recalled lithium batteries.
“Safety is our number one priority, and this rule provides an additional layer of protection to the shipment of lithium batteries, which we all depend on daily to power our phones and our laptops,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s standards are part of our ongoing work to improve safety for all travellers, including those who travel with or ship lithium batteries.”