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City Is Cracking Down on "Frankenstein" E-Bike Batteries

Forest Hills, Queens

Lithium-ion batteries, co-op and condo boards, FDNY, new laws, crackdown, e-bike fires.

Wilson's Electric Scooter Sales & Repair shop in Forest Hills has been shuttered by the FDNY.

Feb. 13, 2024

As many New York City co-op and condo boards continue to struggle with the best ways to prevent fires from lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes and other mobile devices, there's evidence that the city is living up to its promise to crack down on rogue batteries.

The Fire Department of New York recently shut down a Queens e-bike shop where officials said dangerous lithium-ion battery packs were being built and refurbished, Gothamist reports. FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said workers at Wilson’s Electric Scooter Sales & Repair shop on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills were building new battery packs from individual lithium-ion battery cells and billing themselves online as a “battery factory.”

“These are what we have called ‘Frankenstein’ batteries, and we have been warning people not to build these for months,” Kavanagh said. “Unregulated, tampered-with and non-certified batteries are extremely dangerous and deadly. They kill people.”

Kavanagh said firefighters recovered about 60 battery packs, hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells, around 25 e-scooters and 25 combination electric and gas mopeds from the shop, which has been open for about four months, according to online records. E-bikes with refurbished battery packs had been selling for $2,000 to $4,000, according to FDNY officials. E-bikes are a preferred means of transport for the city's 65,000 delivery workers.

The bust is part of an ongoing effort by fire officials and other city agencies to curb illegal off-brand batteries, which were responsible for 268 fires, 18 fatalities and 150 injuries last year, according to FDNY data. Lithium-ion batteries have caused 18 fires and eight injuries in the first six weeks of 2024, according to the FDNY. No fatalities have been reported yet this year.

In response to the threat of fire, some co-op and condo boards have imposed total bans on e-bikes in their buildings, while others have banned uncertified batteries. Some have considered building fire-proof bike storage rooms where batteries can be recharged safely.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection has been working with the FDNY to identify businesses that make, sell and store uncertified lithium-ion batteries, according to DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga. The city has conducted more than 500 inspections and has issued nearly 200 violations to businesses since last September, Mayuga says.

A package of bills passed by the city council last year bars businesses from selling, leasing and renting electric mobility devices that do not meet industry safety standards. It also bans manufacturers and businesses from assembling and selling lithium-ion batteries that contain cells from used storage batteries, which is what was happening at the Forest Hills shop.

Despite these laws enforcement efforts and new regulations by landlords and co-op and condo boards, the fires keep happening. Yesterday Brooklyn firefighters and Hazmat units responded to a fire at 412 E. 51st St., amNewYork reports. After extinguishing the fire they removed charred e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries.

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