E-bike Batteries Are Burning Down New York City
I watch the local New York City news while I have my coffee, and nearly every morning, besides the stories of who was beaten senseless on the subway and which bodega worker was murdered, there’s a report of a building that burned down thanks to a malfunctioning e-bike battery. It’s gotten to the point where one wonders why these things are even legal.
Another day, another major fire caused by lithium-ion batteries
It is well past the time to enforce common sense legislation regulated the sale of these batteries.https://t.co/66MUFPfHKg
— Joann Ariola NYC Council District 32 (@JoannAriola32) March 14, 2023
E-bike lithium-ion batteries have already ignited 25 fires within New York City limits this year, killing at least two and injuring 36. According to officials, that was quadruple the number of fires sparked by these batteries over the same timeframe last year.
A video posted on Twitter by the New York City Fire Dept. shows the blazing speed at which a faulty battery can go up in flames and set off a massive fire. The conflagration ignited by this particular battery destroyed the grocery store where it was charging, leaving nearby Bronx residents with fewer options to buy food. It grew into a five-alarm blaze that also damaged nearby buildings and injured seven people.
Per FDNY Fire Marshals, the cause of today’s 5-alarm fire at 2096 Grand Concourse in the Bronx was a lithium-ion battery which powered a scooter. pic.twitter.com/HTifRojiJo
— FDNY (@FDNY) March 5, 2023
My first thought was that eco-minded New Yorkers were causing the issue by opting to get around the city on electric bikes rather than in exhaust-producing cars or in the scary subway system. But in fact, the problem seems to be suffered mostly by the lower end of the working class. THE CITY looked into the rapidly growing phenomenon and learned that e-bike battery fires are a consequence of societal changes caused by the COVID-19 shutdown:
As this disturbing trend has unfolded, some neighborhoods in particular — primarily working class areas in Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx — have experienced more than their share of these conflagrations.
The number of e-bike-related fires took off during the pandemic, coinciding with the growth in riders using battery-powered devices to deliver takeout via apps such as GrubHub and DoorDash.
That’s right: lazy first-worlders who have become too spoiled to venture to the store or prepare food for themselves have spawned an army of delivery serfs reliant on e-bikes to earn their humble living.
As of Nov. 22, 2022, “These fires, triggered by poorly maintained or damaged lithium-ion batteries, have caused 10 deaths and more than 200 injuries in the five boroughs in just the last two years alone,” notes THE CITY. Many of the fires strike modest residences, while public housing is also hit with its share:
The fires have hit public housing hard. In the last two years NYCHA properties have had a total of 31 e-bike-related fires, particularly in Manhattan neighborhoods with multiple NYCHA developments.
On the Lower East Side, for example, an e-bike fire hit one apartment in NYCHA’s Baruch Houses in April 2021, then another Baruch apartment around the corner in July 2021. A few months later and a few blocks south at NYCHA’s Vladeck Houses, a third fire occurred in May.
This string of calamities for NYCHA tenants peaked with a deadly e-bike fire in August at the Jackie Robinson Houses in East Harlem that killed a 5-year-old girl and her father’s girlfriend, and critically injured her father. Three battery-powered devices were pulled out of the ruins of the apartment where the blaze first sparked.
Properly manufactured, tested, and installed lithium-ion batteries are generally safe to use, and they commonly power numerous household tools and devices. “The difference with e-bikes,” reports THE CITY, “is that many of them are being manufactured without safety regulations or third-party testing. Especially in New York, the market has been quickly saturated with a flood of these devices as workers adopt them to meet the growing demand for fast deliveries.” Cheap Chinese knock-offs for the win!