US Coast Guard issues fire warning following electric vehicle salt water submersion

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Following significant damage caused by hurricane Ian which flooding throughout Florida and the Southeastern United States, the US Coast Guard has issued a warning over the fire risk surrounding electric vehicles which have been exposed to salt water.

During the response and reconstitution after the hurricane, first responders encountered numerous vehicle fires involving Electronic Vehicles (EVs) that are powered by Lithium-Ion batteries. Investigations have revealed that the vehicle fires resulted from exposure of the Lithium Ion batteries to salt water.

Saltwater exposure can significantly degrade lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, causing a chemical reaction that creates an extreme fire. Review of vehicle registration records revealed there are over 7,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in Lee County, Florida with potential for damage.

The Coast Guard said that vessels, ports, and shippers should be aware of this extreme risk and avoid loading EVs with damaged Lithium-Ion onto commercial vessels.

The Coast Guard strongly recommends that vessels, ports, shippers, and regulators conduct a comprehensive review of the vehicle shipping requirements found in both the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. All lithium batteries are hazardous materials regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). As such, they are required to comply with the Lithium Battery Guide for Shippers.

It also said that they should conduct review of additional requirements for shipping damaged lithium ion batteries located in the PHMSA Safety Advisory Notice for the Disposal and Recycling of Lithium Batteries in Commercial Transportation. Due to the large size of EV batteries, the packaging requirements to comply with damaged shipment regulations are inadequate.

As such, IMDG special provision 376 specifically requires approval from the competent authority (PHMSA or US Coast Guard) prior to shipment of damaged lithium batteries.

The Coast Guard said: “Remain vigilant and ensure damaged lithium-ion vehicle batteries are not loaded onto vessels for shipment, placed within port facilities, or enclosed in containers.”

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