Violating hazmat regulations for packaging and handling lithium batteries can bring a maximum civil penalty of $50,000, $100,000 if serious injury, death, or substantial property destruction results.

Lithium Battery Warnings Not Sinking In

FAA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration published a safety advisory in yesterday's Federal Register citing five aircraft incidents since July 1.

More than 40 aviation incidents since 1991 involving lithium batteries or devices powered by them have been identified by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration, and the two agencies again warned shippers and air travelers yesterday that these batteries are considered hazardous materials in transportation. Violating the hazmat regulations' requirements for packaging, hazard communication, and handling lithium batteries can bring a maximum civil penalty of $50,000 per violation -- $100,000 per violation if a death, serious illness, or severe injury occurs to a person or substantial destruction of property results.

The list of incidents is available here.

These DOT agencies have gone to great lengths to educate carriers, shippers, and everyone else about the rules and how batteries, new or recalled, should be packed and marked for transportation. "Since 2007," they said in the latest advisory, "we have published numerous safety advisories, created the SafeTravel Web site dedicated to providing information to the air traveling public on the safe transport of a variety of materials including lithium batteries and partnered with airlines, battery manufacturers and others to spread our safety message. Additionally, the PHMSA Hazardous Materials Safety Assistance Team initiated an outreach campaign. As part of this campaign, team members visited retailers and others involved in the production, distribution and sale of lithium batteries. During their visits, team members provided kits on how to provide information on the safe shipment of lithium batteries and encouraged those persons the team visited to include the SafeTravel link on their Web sites." They published "Shipping Batteries Safely by Air; What You Need to Know," targeting infrequent shippers, in March 2009.

"Despite these outreach efforts, aviation incidents involving lithium batteries continue to occur," they said. "For example, the July 15, 2009 incident involved a shipment containing several thousand lithium ion cell phone batteries loosely placed into fiberboard packages, with no protection from short circuits and no package markings indicating the presence of lithium batteries. One of the packages was discovered emitting smoke after landing at its destination. These and similar incidents are the cause of significant concern by PHMSA and FAA. Documents included with the shipment indicated the packages contained non-hazardous used batteries.

"Non-compliance with the transportation requirements for lithium batteries poses serious safety consequences. Therefore, we are again increasing our efforts to reduce this risk by stepping up our already aggressive enforcement of the safety standards and reenergizing our awareness and outreach efforts. Accordingly, we are publishing this safety advisory to further promote awareness of the ongoing safety concern and ensure that shippers and carriers are aware of the risks associated with the transportation of lithium batteries, the current regulatory requirements applicable to such transportation, and that regulatory violations will be prosecuted to the maximum extent permitted under the law. We are particularly concerned with undeclared shipments of lithium batteries and we will be focusing on discovering these shipments and those persons responsible for offering them in transportation. We encourage anyone with information on those engaged in this practice to bring them to our attention through our online complaints Web site at: http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/phmsa-ext/feedback/hazmatComplaintsRegsViolationsForm.jsp or by calling the Hazardous Materials Information Center at: 1-800-467-4922."

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