There have been a few e-cigarette accidents and even a couple of deaths over the years caused by lithium ion battery meltdowns. Another accident occurred on November 1st in Nottinghamshire, England, when the spare e-cig battery in a man’s pocket began overheating.
Dan Vowles, 46, is a social care worker who was just finishing his shift at work when he felt his pants pocket beginning to get warm.
"I thought I'd left my vape turned on in my pocket and the button had been pressed, but when I looked down and put my hand in my pocket, that's when I noticed it spark,” he told a reporter from Nottinghamshire Live, a local news agency.
"It sparked and then there was a flash, my pocket set on fire and the air turned blue with language,” he said. Mr. Vowles began desperately trying to get the overheating battery out of his pocket.
"I shouted 'get me out, get me out', and the battery was glowing red after I had thrown it across the office. It was literally red hot, and when I went outside I noticed that my right hand had been burnt raw, the right hand side of my leg and the pocket was burnt,” he recounted.
Mr. Vowles was taken to the hospital where he spent some time on the burn unit at Nottingham’s City Hospital. He suffered burns to both hands as well as to his right leg, leaving him unable to walk for a period of time (if you like gruesome images, you can see a picture of his injuries in the original Nottinghamshire post).
Mr. Vowles describes the incident as a “freak accident,” stating “for a battery on its own to blow up, there’s something wrong there.” But was it really a freak accident?
The article on Mr. Vowles accident closed with a roundup of warnings on safe vaping from the Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service. The fire service advised the public:
• Be vigilant about where you purchase e-cig batteries from, ensuring they are from a recognized and reputable dealer
• Do not use damaged equipment or batteries
• Do not use counterfeit goods
• Only use the charger that was specifically designed to charge your particular e-cig kit
• Do not leave batteries plugged in to charge overnight
These are all excellent reminders, however, oddly, nowhere is the far more obvious cause of the accident addressed: user error and carelessness. Carrying a spare battery in your pocket that is not placed in a protective cover is well known to be a dangerous and risky behavior.
Why is it so risky? No matter how well manufactured, lithium ion batteries come with certain inherent dangers due to their design and the fact that they contain highly flammable material. Recycling guidelines ask that each lithium ion battery be placed in a separate plastic bag to prevent contact between them if more than one is being brought to a battery recycling center. This is because contact with another battery or a key or coin—or, say, the back grommet of a snap on your jeans—could connect the positive and negative terminals of the battery, resulting in the battery discharging or short circuiting which can lead to thermal meltdown.
This is especially true of 18650 batteries, the removable batteries that are popular for use in many e-cig mods and appear to be the type Mr. Vowles was using. These types of batteries have only a thin plastic sheath and are especially prone to accidental meltdown if not kept in a plastic case. That’s why most sellers will provide you with a case for free if you purchase more than one of these batteries at a time.
The danger of careless handling of 18650 batteries leading to injury or explosions is so great that liability insurance generally does not cover their sale in United States making them harder to find here.
Maybe that is for the best. No matter how prominent the warnings or how great the effort to educate, there will always be individuals who do not take the time to read warnings or learn about safe handling of lithium ion batteries. Those individuals will wind up doing dumb things like carrying an 18650 battery in their pocket next to some spare change resulting in 3rd degree burns.
That said, no disrespect toward Mr. Vowles is intended. He suffered significant injury and he seems like a very decent fellow. In fact, after his stay at Nottingham City Hospital, Mr. Vowles set up a fundraising page to help support the burn unit which has raised about $680 dollars. During his stay, Mr. Vowles noticed that the T.V. in the unit was broken and wanted to raise money to buy a new one to make future patient stays in the unit “less mind numbing.” A noble cause indeed and an incredibly thoughtful and generous gesture.
However, Mr. Vowles ended his Go Fund Me post with the words, “Have a good day & DON’T CARRY VAPE BATTERIES IN YOUR POCKET FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s learned the most important lesson from his accident. You should never carry vape batteries in your pocket AT ALL, Mr. Vowles! At least not without a protective cover.
Stay safe and happy vaping!
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