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Beware of Online Sales of Loose Lithium-Ion Batteries

Consumers are being warned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) not to buy or use loose 18650 lithium-ion battery cells. The federal agency is telling consumers to beware these rechargeable batteries are being sold, primarily online, without proper circuit protection which can lead to bodily injury.

How can consumers identify packaging?

Normally, lithium-ion battery cells are manufactured and assembled into standalones or safely bundled in battery packs. What is happening is some distributors are taking the battery packs apart, separating the cells, and rewrapping them to sell to consumers as individual pieces. When taken apart, they look a lot like standard AA batteries, but slightly larger. These cells are not intended – or designed – for individual sale.

What are the dangers?

Loose 18650 battery cells pose significant risks to people under the right conditions. For instance, if these battery cells are repackaged and have exposed metal positive and negative terminals, they could short-circuit at any time. This means if you are handling, transporting, storing, charging, or using the batteries, and they come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change, you can be severely injured. The reason is if touching metal objects causes the batteries to short-circuit, they could quickly overheat and ignite the cell’s internal materials; this process is called thermal runaway and can create dangerous fires or explosions.

How are loose lithium-ion batteries used?

People are using the 18650 battery cells as standalone batteries for e-cigarettes, vapes, flashlights, toys, personal fans, headlamps, small power tools, and other types of small devices. Another significant problem the CPSC warns of is that thermal runaway can also occur if people put these lithium-ion loose batteries in chargers not designed for them.

The CPSC warns loose lithium-ion batteries simply don’t have the protection circuits necessary to be safely used. The federal agency is actively working with online retailers, including eBay and Amazon, to remove loose lithium-ion battery listings that do not have the proper protection circuits.

This doesn’t mean you can’t buy any 18650 batteries online. What it means is you should carefully check to make sure the batteries you’re buying weren’t part of a larger battery bundle that was taken apart.