Bargain-Priced, Sometimes-Counterfeit Batteries Are Most Dangerous, Senator Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Sunday that poorly made cellphone batteries can lead to phones overheating and exploding.

Schumer commented Sunday at a stop in Manhattan. He said problems most often occur when people replace batteries that came with their phones with bargain-priced batteries that might be counterfeit.

Schumer said there have been at least 60 reported instances of cellphone batteries smoking, catching fire or exploding in the last two years. He called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to determine the full scope of the problem.

“Bottom line, people should not feel like this is a ticking time bomb in their pocket,” Schumer said.

Consumer advocates also called for better safety standards.

“We need to do a better job making sure that everything that is sold online or in a discount store or retail store meets those standards,” said Chuck Bell of the Consumer Union.

Schumer noted publicized cases of a Minnesota eighth grader who was burned when a cellphone exploded in his pocket. He says a Texas man injured his ear in a similar incident.

As CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported, those cases of exploding cellphones are not isolated.

Jimmy Dittulio of the Lower East Side said he had a similar experience.

“It could have burned my hands,” he said, “but luckily, I dropped it.”

It also happened to Fernando Greco of Kew Gardens, Queens.

“It happened to me two times already,” he said.

And Greco has had his cell phone battery overheat – swelling so much it was practically bursting from its shell.

“I uncovered it and I saw that it was popping out like that,” he said.

Cellphone technician Jake Earp explained last week that that the lithium batteries commonly used in many phones can expand if overcharged as Greco’s did.

“Gases inside the battery start to expand,” Earp explained. “It will actually push the motherboard right out of the phone and sometimes break the back.”

Lithium batteries can get puffed up and dangerous.

“After a year of being plugged in, plugged out, charging overnight starts to ruin the battery,” Earp said.

According to the CPSC, over the last two years, there have been about 61 reports of cellphones exploding. But the concern is that the problem may be much more widespread.

“There are obviously many, many more,” Schumer said, “and what’s really worrisome is that the number is increasing. That’s probably because the number of batteries being imported are increasing.”

Schumer said a lot of the exploding batteries are counterfeit imports from China.

“That happens to people that can’t afford the original product and they buy a cheaper one,” Greco said, “but definitely, there should be something that does not let something blow up in your ear.”

Greco said next time he goes to buy a battery for his phone, he will be checking the label and the brand twice.

To keep your battery from overheating, experts advise staying away from off-brands. If your battery does overheat, you should immediately turn off your phone.

They said the best way to avoid a cell phone explosion is only to buy batteries from the manufacturer.

Experts also advise keeping your phone away from water and extreme heat.

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