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N.Y. Senate passes e-bike fire safety legislation

Bill sets standards for batteries and firefighting equipment


e-bikes are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can overheat, generating ferocious, fast-moving infernos with toxic dark smoke. The city has faced a multiyear surge in battery blazes.

Theodore Parisienne for New York Daily News

By Tim Balk
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — As burning e-bike batteries wreak havoc across New York City, lawmakers in the state Senate are expected to pass a package of bills on Tuesday aimed at snuffing out the troubling trend.

[RELATED: FDNY commissioner celebrates U.S. House passing Li-ion battery legislation]

The Albany blueprint includes provisions that would set quality standards for batteries that power the devices, and require that e-bike shops carry sufficient fire-fighting equipment such as Class B extinguishers.

The legislative package would layer on similar city-level provisions. Its planks require approval from the Assembly and Gov. Hochul. But some parts of the package, including the battery quality standards measure, have already passed the Assembly.

“We’re hoping we can push through all different angles to address the issue,” said state Sen. Iwen Chu, the Brooklyn Democrat who is sponsoring legislation establishing fire safety standards for e-bike businesses.

Fire service leaders urge firefighters to get ready for this even-faster growing type of fire

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader and a Westchester County Democrat, said in a statement that the package is a “significant step forward in addressing the dangers” posed by e-bike batteries.

Still, some parts of the package may not reach Hochul’s desk this year. Assemblyman Chris Eachus, the Orange County Democrat who is carrying Chu’s store safety legislation in his chamber, said Monday that he did not expect it to pass the Assembly this session.

In 2018, New York City lifted a prohibition on riders zipping through city streets on e-bikes. The move greased pandemic-era food deliveries and offered locals an easier way to get around.

But e-bikes are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can overheat, generating ferocious, fast-moving infernos with toxic dark smoke. The city has faced a multiyear surge in battery blazes.

“It really would be more accurate to describe them as explosions,” Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said last summer. “When one of these batteries fails, there’s a tremendous volume of fire.”

The city reported last year that lithium-ion batteries had become the second-leading local cause of fire deaths.

By the end of 2023, lithium-ion batteries had sparked 268 fires, leading to 150 injuries and 18 deaths citywide, according to the Fire Department.

City lawmakers scrambled to address the issue, authorizing a ban on the sale of uncertified lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes, and approving a program to let New Yorkers trade in their old e-bikes for new, safe devices.

Mayor Adams’ administration also cracked down on sketchy bike stores that recklessly handle the batteries.

The city is on pace to record a drop in deadly lithium-ion fires this year. But the blazes have not stopped.

In March, an e-bike sparked a fire in the Bronx that injured 10 people and displaced 26, according to the FDNY. In February, one person perished and 17 others were injured in a lithium-ion battery blaze in Harlem.

Through Monday, the city had logged 79 fires, 40 injuries and one death linked to lithium-ion batteries this year, according to the Fire Department.

Officials at the city, state and federal level continue to grasp for solutions. Last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation introduced by Rep. Ritchie Torres of the Bronx that would stiffen product safety standards for lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes.

A spokesman for Torres, Benny Stanislawski, said he expected the bill to pass the Senate “by the end of the summer.”

©2024 New York Daily News.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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