Living in one of the most walkable cities in the country means that New Yorkers are experts in finding the most efficient means of navigating the concrete jungle. Popular methods of transportation, especially for delivery persons, are e-bikes and scooters which allow residents to glide most effortlessly around the city at much greater speed, while expending significantly less energy. These battery powered devices are not only considered more eco-friendly than cars but offer more flexibility and availability than traditional public transit. E-bikes and scooters provide an immense amount of utility for New Yorkers, but at what cost?
The Danger is in the Details
Battery power — the very feature that makes electronic micro-mobility devices such a desirable alternative to traditional means of transportation — is the most dangerous aspect of them. Similar to most modern electronics, e-bikes and scooters are powered with lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Li-ion batteries offer appealing benefits to not only manufacturers but consumers as well due to their efficiency, but they can only be used safely if they are cared for properly.
What Risks Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Pose to Condos and Co-Ops?
As convenient as micro-mobility devices are, when they are not cared for, charged, or stored properly, the Li-ion batteries inside make them pose a substantial fire risk. In 2022, New York saw 220 fires, an increase from 44 in 2020, due to micro-mobility devices with Li-ion batteries. Lithium fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish as not only do they spread quickly, but they also produce noxious fumes. Fires resulting from Li-ion batteries are self-oxidizing and prone to reigniting.
Moreover, due to how lithium reacts with water, putting out the fire produces hydrogen gas and lithium-hydroxide. Lithium hydroxide can cause skin irritation and eye damage, and hydrogen is extremely flammable. As a result, using water to put out a lithium fire is counterproductive. If the battery happens to be leaking, exposure to air or moisture can produce hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic substance that severely irritates the eyes and lungs.
In short, Li-ion batteries, while seemingly useful, can lead to death.
What are the options?
Quite a few cooperatives and condominiums in New York City have decided to pass Li-ion battery bans because of the deadly fire risk. This is unquestionably the safest solution. However, for those buildings that have decided not to ban them, some are exploring one or more of the following options:
- A ban on micro-mobility devices in common areas or inside apartments.
- Requirements that residents register the devices with the building and show evidence that they have been certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory UL (Underwriters Laboratory).
- Creation of a fireproof area for storage and charging of micro-mobility devices that is monitored and does not permit overnight charging.
When making decisions of this nature, cooperative and condominium Board members can never permit convenience to cloud their judgment; safety must always come first.