NYC Rep. Velazquez joins fight against exploding e-bike batteries
NEW YORK — The FDNY could get some federal help in its ongoing fight against exploding e-bike batteries.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., vowed Saturday to introduce legislation that would provide federal money for New York and other municipalities to create public charging and storage stations for e-bikes, scooters and mopeds — removing the potentially explosive lithium-ion batteries out of people’s homes where they can do the most damage.
“These stations will help get e-bike and lithium batteries out of residential buildings and into safe and accessible storage spaces where we can limit risk to our residents,” Velazquez said at a news conference outside a scorched Goodwin Place, Brooklyn, home where an lithium-ion battery sparked a blaze that cost a 67-year-old woman her life.
The legislation would create federal Department of Transportation grants for any municipality wanting to create these charging spaces. Velazquez is hoping to earmark $500 million for the grants.
Faulty e-bike and scooter batteries have sparked 33 fires across the city so far this year, causing 42 injuries and two deaths.
The batteries explode and catch fire when they are being charged. E-bike and scooter owners usually charge the batteries in their homes, while they’re sleeping, a recipe for disaster, Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.
“These fires spread incredibly quickly and with great force,” Kavanagh said at a city public safety briefing Friday hosted by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks. “They pose a huge risk to our members and to the public.”
Since the FDNY began spreading the word about the dangers of charging the batteries at home, some have decided to create charging spaces for city delivery workers, but these come with their own set of hazards.
In the past week, the FDNY Bureau of Fire Prevention received a tip about an illegal battery charging station in the basement of a 34-story residential skyscraper in Manhattan.
“They discovered more than 100 e-bikes and more than 200 batteries charging in a makeshift charging station,” Kavanagh said.
The batteries were being charged in wooden shelving system plugged into an unapproved power strip plugged into the wall with an extension cord, Kavanagh said.
“It posed a significant fire hazard,” said the commissioner, adding that one burning e-bike battery destroyed a Bronx supermarket last Sunday. “Imagine the damage this many batteries could cause, sitting out in the open, sitting on a pallet of wood given what we have already seen resulting from one single battery.”
The FDNY “found several violations in accordance with fire safety regulations” in the garage and “advised building management to rectify the hazardous condition to ensure the safety of the occupants,” the department said while posting images of the shelves on social media.
Potentially dangerous battery-charging racks were also found in five other Manhattan businesses in February. Violations and summonses were given to the owners, the FDNY said.
Velazquez’s legislation comes as the City Council passed a raft of bills this month that would ban the buying and selling of uncertified and secondhand e-bike batteries, which are more prone to catch fire than batteries provided by the manufacturer.
“Right now we are trying very much to understand this industry,” City Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez, a Democrat, said. “Regulating not just the manufacturers but the importers is going to be key.
“These are businesses that are more interested in the bottom dollar (than) in saving lives,” she said.