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PRBA Responds to News Story With a “Compendium of Egregious Errors” About Lithium Batteries

PRBA Responds to News Story With a “Compendium of Egregious Errors” About Lithium Batteries

It is regrettable that readers of Flying Typers were gratuitously misinformed by your recent articles (1 August 2013 and 21 August 2013) on lithium batteries, specifically the applicability of the dangerous goods regulations, PRBA’s position on these regulations, PRBA’s role in the dangerous goods regulatory process, the evolution of the lithium battery dangerous goods regulations over the last eight years and the UN Sub-Committee of Experts’ and ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel’s extensive efforts to develop a regulatory framework that ensures the safe transport of lithium batteries. We are writing to correct the compendium of egregious errors, shoddy reporting and outright falsehoods contained in your articles.

Let’s start with the statement that PRBA has obstructed “all measures” that would encourage the safe transport of lithium batteries. This statement is false. We request you retract the statement immediately, both online and in hard copy.

The safe transportation of lithium batteries and devices containing them remains PRBA’s No. 1 priority. PRBA has long endorsed more aggressive enforcement by regulators. PRBA has advocated for measures that would bolster compliance with existing air transport safety requirements. PRBA has urged a crackdown on the manufacturers and shippers of dangerous counterfeit batteries.

Most important, PRBA has long supported—not opposed—efforts requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to harmonize its lithium battery hazardous materials regulations by adopting the more stringent international air transport dangerous goods regulations. Flying Typers would have known this had its reporters simply taken the time to read and understand PRBA’s extensive comments on the U.S. DOT lithium battery rulemaking. We also played an instrumental role in developing and supporting the new lithium battery Packing Instructions in the ICAO Technical Instructions, which took effect on 1 January 2013. These new regulations are far more stringent than the 2011-2012 lithium battery Packing Instructions.

PRBA also has worked cooperatively with regulatory authorities at the UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel and IMO Subcommittee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers for the past eight years. In addition, we have a very good working relationship with the U.S. DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

PRBA did oppose the U.S. DOT’s overbroad 2010 lithium battery rulemaking that would have required every smart phone, e-reader, notebook, tablet, power tool and camera powered by a lithium ion battery and shipped by air to be offered as Class 9 dangerous goods. The DOT docket shows that approximately 95 percent of the commenters on the proposed rule, including the airlines, freight forwarders, medical device manufacturers, retailers, cellular phone manufacturers, electronics manufacturers, automobile manufacturers, foreign government agencies, U.S. government agencies and many others also opposed it. It also is worth mentioning that the U.S. DOT underestimated the economic impact of the rulemaking by over a billion dollars. The fact that the U.S. DOT has not published a final rule almost four years after the original proposed rule was published is an indication the agency now realizes the original rulemaking was poorly conceived, not to mention wholly unenforceable.

Speaking of enforcement, we find it interesting that Flying Typers did not address one of the most important aspects of the dangerous goods regulations: enforcement of the regulations by transport authorities. Without adequate enforcement of these regulations, even the most stringent regulatory scheme cannot prevent non-compliant shipments from being placed in transport.

The report from the General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates on the 2010 UPS plane accident does a very good job of highlighting the challenge presented by non-compliant shippers out of Asia. Below are three excerpts from the GCAA’s report that your readers will find enlightening:

  • At least three shipments including lithium type batteries should have been classified and fully regulated as Class 9 materials per ICAO Technical Instructions, and thus should have appeared on the cargo manifest. These shipments were located in the cargo at MD positions 4 and 5. (Page 188)
  • A large fire developed in palletized cargo on the main deck at or near pallet positions 4 or 5, in Fire Zone 3, consisting of consignments of mixed cargo including a significant number of lithium type batteries and other combustible materials. The fire escalated rapidly into a catastrophic uncontained fire. (Page 194)
  • Shippers of some of the lithium battery cargo loaded in Hong Kong did not properly declare these shipments and did not provide Test Reports in compliance with the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods Manual of Tests and Criteria, Section 38.3. (Page 188)

Flying Typers’ point that consumers are not able to return devices with lithium batteries installed in full compliance with the applicable dangerous goods regulations is wrong. In fact, consumers are able to ship a single consumer electronic device provided the battery is installed in the device and does not exceed the 100 Wh exception limit (for Li ion batteries) or 2 g lithium metal limit (for Li metal batteries) stated in the regulations. The simplicity of this provision (which is part of the ICAO Technical Instructions that authorizes such shipments) is exactly why the Universal Postal Union requested the same authorization for shipments via the international post. This error –and the others made by Flying Typers – should be corrected.

Flying Typers also ignored an important point about the transport of defective batteries that must be clarified for your readers. The regulations state that defective lithium batteries are forbidden for transport if they “….have the potential of producing a dangerous evolution of heat, fire or short circuit…” What if a consumer orders a battery-powered device via the Internet and after receiving it finds that the device will not power up? This may be the result of a defective battery. Do the regulations prohibit the consumer from returning such a device? Not necessarily. If the battery is completely intact and shows no signs of a thermal event, the regulations may not prohibit such a shipment.

We find it curious how Flying Typers described the lithium battery regulations for “acceptable types” and “fully regulated types” and PRBA’s role in securing relief from the regulations for these so-called “acceptable” batteries. First, the word “acceptable” is not used anywhere in the dangerous goods regulations associated with lithium batteries and is sure to cause confusion for your readers. We assume Flying Typers is referring to the batteries that are “excepted” from regulation. If that is the case, these exceptions were in the regulations long before PRBA ever became involved in the dangerous goods regulatory process in the mid-1990s. The limited exceptions in the ICAO Technical Instructions are based on decisions that were made after very careful and lengthy deliberations and which were supported by PRBA and IFALPA. If Flying Typers believes they have a better regulatory solution for lithium batteries that also will allow the multi-billion dollar e-commerce industry to operate, we suggest you address these issues with members of the UN Sub-Committee and ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel.

We must add that if Flying Typers believes that all shipments of lithium batteries and electronic devices should be offered as Class 9 dangerous goods when shipped by air, it clearly misunderstands how these products move through the logistics chain and the impact a Class 9 requirement could have on consumers. Imagine a grandmother shipping her grandson an e-reader for Christmas and offering it as Class 9 dangerous goods. Yet this is exactly what the U.S. DOT’s 2010 lithium battery rulemaking would have required, and appears to be what Flying Typers is advocating.

We appreciate the opportunity to correct the mistakes in your recent articles on the lithium battery dangerous goods regulations and PRBA’s position. We hope any future articles on these topics will be presented in a more balanced and accurate light.