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Rep. Ritchie Torres introduces federal safety standards for lithium-ion batteries blamed for hundreds of fires

Rep. Torres introduces lithium-ion battery safety act
Rep. Torres introduces lithium-ion battery safety act 02:20

NEW YORK -- On Tuesday, Congressman Ritchie Torres announced a new bill mandating federal safety standards for lithium-ion batteries.

Torres said the proposal is aimed at preventing fires like the five-alarm inferno that tore through a Bronx supermarket over the weekend when an e-bike battery burst into flames.

New York City officials are calling on the federal government to implement stricter standards when it comes to the use of lithium-ion batteries.

"The scandal is not that the federal government is failing to regulate the safety of these batteries. The scandal is that the federal government isn't even trying. At the federal level, there are no safety regulators or safety regulations," Torres said.

Torres announced the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act. The legislation would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish a final consumer product safety standard for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in personal mobility devices -- like electric scooters and bikes.

It's an effort to prevent fires caused by the batteries, fires like the one that broke out on Sunday at a Bronx supermarket along Grand Concourse after an e-bike exploded.

Torres, who made his announcement just down the street, says federal leaders need to be concerned.

"The problems are not the batteries per se. The problem arises when these lithium-ion batteries are poorly designed, poorly manufactured, and poorly handled," Torres said.

READ MOREMayor Adams talks dangers of lithium-ion battery fires; Wants federal intervention

Mayor Eric Adams echoed a similar message on Monday.

"These are extremely dangerous and I'm really calling on our national government to look at how do we restrict the sales of these batteries," Adams said.

Mayor Adams talks crime, policing and more in NYC 07:49

Last year, there were 219 fires caused by devices that use lithium-ion batteries, resulting in 147 injuries and six deaths.

One of many reasons city officials say the feds need to step in is the ease in which cheaper, uncertified batteries can be purchased.

"They could require that the devices when they're sold can only be charged with the chord they come with. They can also confiscate or remove devices that are not certified right now, and then they can actually also seize those same devices at the ports," FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.

READ MORENew York City Council introduces first round of lithium-ion battery safety legislation

The FDNY released a video showing the moment the e-bike battery exploded in the Bronx on Sunday. Officials also say the fires started by these batteries are hard to put out.

"There's something that's called 'thermal runaway' that happens with lithium-ion batteries. There are many small cells in the one large battery and once it's on fire, it's incredibly difficult to extinguish, and each cell can then catch fire. So it's a tremendous volume of fire," Kavanagh said.

Meanwhile, fire union officials are demanding companies be held liable for allowing their employees to use black market batteries to get around while making deliveries.

According to the FDNY, lithium-ion batteries have sparked more than 400 fires across New York City over the last four years.

The City Council passed a bill last week and once the mayor signs it, all e-bikes sold in the city must have a special seal of approval from UL, for Underwriter Laboratories, a company that tests consumer products.

"The way this legislation works is it requires certification of the e-bike. It looks after not just the battery but the charging system, the bike's mechanical integrity, its design," said Dr. Rob Slone, the chief scientist at UL Solutions.

Slone said if you already own an e-bike it's critical you monitor its condition.

"If you see any bulging or you feel excessive heat outside the battery pack, those are signs that there is an issue within the battery, itself," Slone said.

Slone said you should only use the charger that comes with your battery, and even though they may be cheaper, you should never use refurbished batteries.

"Battery is like a bomb. It's that dangerous," said Hossein Paysepar, owner of ROLLGOOD E-Bike Sales & Repair Shop.

Paysepar said he only sells new batteries and never charges overnight.

At ROLLGOOD, every customer that buys a bike gets an instruction manual on how to care for their bike and the battery.

The hope is with new legislation and certification, fires will be stopped long before they start.

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