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Industry asks CPSC for mandatory battery regulations

Published July 27, 2023

BETHESDA, Md. (BRAIN) — Mandatory federal regulations will be necessary to curb the growing fire danger from lithium-ion batteries, industry representatives said at a Consumer Product Safety Commission public hearing Thursday.

The nearly four-hour hearing consisted of three panels of industry, independent standards groups, and consumer safety advocates.

"It's not lost on me that this broad group of experts — including industry, voluntary standards bodies — are all calling on us to implement a mandatory standard," said Commissioner Richard L. Trumka Jr.

In New York City this year, 87 injuries and 13 deaths have been attributed to lithium-ion battery fires, according to FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, who was the first panelist to address the commission. She said micromobility use in the city "dramatically multiplied" during the pandemic.

The hearing touched on a variety of issues, including the recognized safety standards, including UL and EN, devising redundant safety shutoffs for the battery and charger, being able to accurately judge a battery's state of health, potential battery VIN numbers for identification purposes, and making battery cells inaccessible to consumers via tamper-proof cases.

Representing the industry were Matt Moore, PeopleForBikes' policy counsel; Mike Fritz, Human Powered Solutions' chief technology officer; Jeff Jambois, Trek Bicycle's electrical compliance engineer; and Heather Mason, the National Bicycle Dealers Association's president.

Although some D2C suppliers are PeopleForBikes members, the panels contained no representatives from D2C companies, online retailers, or user groups such as New York delivery workers, even though the consensus from panel members was that most of the dangerous fires originate from low-cost e-bikes and rebuilt batteries.

Instead the industry members represented made clear that their part of the bike business is eager to solve the problem.

"I think we've been referred to today as the reputable manufacturers," PeopleForBikes' Moore said dryly after introducing himself to the commissioners.

When it was her turn to address the commissioners, Mason said, "I want to stress that the retailers in our organization, our members, are on board to reduce this risk and have taken measures and shown up to the educational opportunities we have made available." 

PeopleForBikes calls for standards and de minimis reform

In addressing CPSC members Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric and Commissioners Peter Feldman, Mary Boyle, and Trumka, Moore urged a broad regulatory response to require testing and certification of all lithium-ion batteries for all e-mobility devices within its jurisdiction. He also brought up emerging battery-powered off-road devices that look like e-bikes but have no pedals.

"This would ensure the products have a robust battery management system," Moore said. "The agency should adopt established consensus standards for batteries such as those referenced under UL 2849 and EN 15194 as well as other battery standards already cited in the commission's December letter to manufacturers. It would require third-party labs and create a general certificate of conformity to establish compliance with mandatory regulations."

The CPSC letter was sent to more than 2,000 e-bike and other micromobility manufacturers and importers encouraging their products comply with relevant safety standards, including UL 2849.

Additionally, Moore was the first to bring up the flow of less-expensive batteries and e-mobility products coming over the border because of the $800 de minimis threshold. Goods under the threshold enter the U.S. without inspection, paying duties, taxes, and fees.

"If the agency follows through and creates these regulations, those regulations alone won't be enough," Moore said.

Additionally, PeopleForBikes research indicates there are more than 400 online e-bike sellers of e-bikes who are not PFB members and are not based in the U.S. except to sell their products to consumers. The commission asked Moore to provide more information about these sellers.

"There are hundreds of generic chargers and batteries being sold directly to consumers that come in under the $800 de minimis threshold for formal customs entry," Moore said.

PeopleForBikes recommended to Congress to exclude e-mobility devices, batteries and chargers from de minimis. Last month, Senate legislation was introduced to restrict non-market economies like China from using the de minimis threshold to import products — including e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries — into the U.S. marketplace without accountability for product integrity. 

Moore said PeopleForBikes also will soon publish a new e-bike owners manual containing information on safe and unsafe practices for consumers.

Trek's Jambois, also in agreement about the de minimis loophole, emphasized the importance of minimum safety standards.

"They promote safety and growth in the market," he said. "Based on our observations, markets that require certification and minimum safety standards have seen far fewer issues with fires and general battery safety. Requiring minimum safety standards also improves consumer confidence and regulatory consistency which promotes continued growth in the marketplace. We recommend that the CPSC require e-bikes, batteries and chargers meet certain safety standards."

Specifically, Jambois suggests mandating UL 2849 for battery and charger safety. "This immediately addresses the core risk of these products."

NBDA urges 'protocols, policy and procedure'

Mason noted that a year ago the NBDA urged its members to sell only e-bikes meeting UL2849. On Thursday she requested that the CPSC update its bicycle regulations with safety requirements for e-bikes, suggesting that the commission model its e-bike regulations on ISO or EN standards or at least require all e-bikes to meet UL 2849. Currently, the CPSC is urging e-bike sellers to meet UL 2849, but it's not mandatory. In New York City, bikes being offered for sale must meet UL 2849 or a similar nationally recognized standard, starting in September.

Mason also asked the CPSC to develop and enforce best practices for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and recycling centers that handle lithium-ion batteries.

"We suggest CSPC work with proper firms to initiate centralized protocols, policy and procedure," she told commissioners. "We propose a relationship with PeopleForBikes ... to ensure that suppliers and distributors certify products to safety standards previously mentioned. We would like to see formalized proper policy around shipping and transportation of product. For instance, battery imports should have documented safety and regularity certifications in order to be imported."

Fritz: Buyer beware

For Fritz, battery safety comes down to a simple consumer truism: You get what you pay for. And he said without mandatory regulations and enforcement, it's up to consumers to educate themselves.

"Safe, reliable lithium-ion battery packs and associated charging systems are expensive, representing up to a $1,000 of an e-bikes retail price," Fritz told the commissioners.

"This often drives the cost of an e-bike out of the range of affordability for many users, especially those who rely on light electric mobility for their financial sustenance. Unscrupulous distributors compromise quality and safety by building e-bikes using substandard components to achieve costs low enough to enter the country with no scrutiny at the ports, particularly with the batteries. Cheap lithium-ion batteries are dangerous lithium-ion batteries.

"How has this happened? We have failed to implement appropriate mandatory standards. We have failed to implement use and safety protocols and broad-based education."

CPSC chair: Regulation development is 'burdensome and slow'

In closing remarks, Hoehn-Saric said the hearing convinced him that current voluntary standards are inadequate; he said the CPSC is working to strengthen those standards.

He also said he was impressed by testimony asking for mandatory regulations.

"Most everybody who has come to testify before us has expressed support for mandatory standards for batteries and electrical systems for mobility devices. And such a standard would definitely make things easier for CPSC to engage in enforcement and provide a baseline safety for consumers out there.

"Unfortunately, as many of you are aware, developing mandatory standards under CPSC statute can be burdensome and slow," he said, referring to the need for Congress to sign off on any new regulations from the agency. He added that he was grateful for the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.). All three provided video testimony shown at the start of the meeting.

"All of us need to act now to protect consumers. Here at CPSC we are working with stakeholders to strengthen the standards for e-bikes, scooters, aftermarket batteries and chargers ... and monitor the marketplace.

"But the first line of defense really needs to be the micromobility device manufacturers, importers as well as retailers and online marketplaces that are selling these products. The manufacturers and importers need to step up and bring to the market e-scooters and batteries and chargers that comply with the standards that are out there now. Given the hazards, there's no excuse for not meeting those standards today. Retailers and online marketplaces should protect their consumers by requiring any products they are selling ... meet these standard and have systems in place to make sure they are monitoring products on their sites so they can identify when those aren't being met and can take steps to get them off."

In his closing remarks, Commissioner Trumka said an urgent response is needed.

"We need to solve this and we need to solve it now," he said. He noted that residents who don't even own e-mobility devices are in danger if a fire breaks out in a nearby apartment.

"We are forcing people to live with that fear because we haven't solved this issue yet. We need to. Please hold us to account," he said.

FDNY photo from a battery-charging business it shut down this year.
Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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