DOT Steps Up Enforcement on Safe Transportation of Lithium Batteries
The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Aviation Administration have issued a notice alerting shippers and carriers to the importance of transporting lithium batteries safely. This advisory guidance is designed to (1) inform persons of recent aviation incidents involving fires aboard both passenger and cargo aircraft and the potential hazards that shipments of lithium batteries may present while in transportation, (2) provide information concerning the current regulatory requirements for the transportation of lithium batteries and (3) inform the public that regulatory violations will be prosecuted to the maximum extent permitted under the law.
DOT states that lithium batteries are considered hazardous materials in transportation because they present both chemical and electrical hazards. Defective batteries or batteries that are misused, mishandled, improperly packaged, improperly stored, improperly manufactured or overcharged can overheat and ignite and, once ignited, fires can be especially difficult to extinguish. Fires in aircraft can result in catastrophic events presenting unique challenges not encountered in other transport modes.
The Hazardous Materials Regulations already include requirements for packaging, hazard communication and handling lithium batteries, and DOT agencies have conducted numerous public outreach efforts on this issue. Nevertheless, aviation incidents involving lithium batteries continue to occur. As a result, DOT is again increasing its efforts to reduce this risk by stepping up its already aggressive enforcement of the safety standards and re-energizing its awareness and outreach efforts. DOT is particularly concerned with undeclared shipments of lithium batteries and will be focusing on discovering these shipments and those persons responsible for offering them in transportation. Violations can be met with civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation ($100,000 if a death, serious illness or severe injury to a person, or substantial destruction of property, occurs), and potential criminal penalties include fines of up to $500,000 and/or ten years in jail. To date, the FAA has closed over 75 investigations concerning battery violations observed in air transport and collected over $1 million in civil penalties.