Firefighters work outside a building in Chinatown in Manhattan after...

Firefighters work outside a building in Chinatown in Manhattan after four people were killed by a blaze in an e-bike repair shop overnight on June 20. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

A rash of lithium-ion battery fires — some deadly — has spurred New York lawmakers to approve a series of bills to regulate how the batteries are sold, charged and stored.

The package of five measures is aimed at e-bikes, or electronic bicycles, and not so much at large battery storage plants such as the East Hampton one that caught fire in 2023.

The State Senate passed the bills last Tuesday; the Assembly did so earlier this year. Gov. Kathy Hochul will have to sign or veto the bills by the year’s end.

Here’s what to know:

Dramatic rise in fires

The action comes following a dramatic increase in e-bike fires, including hundreds annually in New York City. In 2022, city officials said they were responding to an average of nearly four such fires each week.

Perhaps the most tragic, high-profile event occurred last June in Manhattan’s Chinatown, when an explosion in an e-bike shop triggered a blaze that spread to upper-floor apartments, killing four people.

Investigators said it was caused by a lithium-ion battery, which can overheat while being charged and explode in an intensely hot fire. The e-bike shop had been cited previously for safety violations regarding battery storage and charge, media outlets reported.

Chargers, replacements, power cords

Three pieces of legislation would change the laws around the sales of batteries, chargers and power cords.

One bill would prohibit the sale of batteries or chargers that aren’t certified safe by an accredited testing lab. Another requires chargers to have affixed tags providing information about safe use and storage and bright red labels suggesting power cords be unplugged when not in use.

“The majority of these fires are being caused by faulty batteries manufactured by companies who have no concern for the possible danger they are causing,” Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) said when the Assembly approved the bill.

Another requires the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to create a lithium-ion battery rebate to encourage people to trade in old batteries for new officially certified ones.

Anecdotally, users have said the high cost of new batteries ($500 to $800) makes it more attractive to buy refurbished ones.

“Many of these faulty, dangerous batteries have already been sold and are in homes across the state,” Assemb. Yudelka Tapia (D-Bronx) said. “By instituting a trade-in option, we’re giving all residents the ability to keep their families safe from these faulty devices."

Not everyone is convinced a rebate program will have much impact.

State Sen. George Borrello, a Chautauqua County Republican, said the bill would create a “cottage industry” where some people buy new batteries and get the rebate, but then keep old batteries, resell them and pocket the cash.

But it’s important to note the bill orders NYSERDA to come up with the rules and regulations for the rebate program, including setting prices and requirements, which could involve trade-ins.

Fire prevention, response

One bill would expand the hazardous materials training administered by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control to include protocols and guidance for responding to emergencies involving lithium-ion batteries.

Assemb. Al Taylor (D-Manhattan) said training is needed because “our firefighters are quickly learning that fires caused by lithium-ion batteries require a specialized response.”

Stalled bills

Not all the lithium-ion proposals floated in Albany garnered enough support to pass both houses in the legislature.

One bill would mandate retailers keep firefighting or fire suppression systems on site, such as certain types of extinguishers or a sprinkler system. Republicans said sprinklers wouldn’t be strong enough to douse e-bike fires, and suppression systems, such as a restaurant might have, would be too expensive for small retailers.

Another stalled bill would make the state conduct a lithium-ion battery fire prevention study.

Storage facilities

Three lithium-battery storage sites in New York State caught fire in 2023. A study by the Hochul administration said “no harmful toxins” were detected at the sites.

That hasn’t satisfied some activists who have called for more research on the facilities — which are projected to sprout exponentially as the state tries to transition away from fossil fuels for its energy needs.

A task force of state agencies put forth a series of safety recommendations for the storage sites. Meanwhile, the legislature hasn’t tackled the issue in a broad way. Several lawmakers have proposed bills that would outlaw storage sites in their home districts, but these measures haven’t gained any traction.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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