Phones Exploding a Growing Problem
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Consumer Product Safety Commission cell phone recalls:
Verizon Wireless announce recall of counterfeit cell phone
Kyocera Wireless Corp. announce recall of batteries in
Smartphone cell phones
Kyocera Wireless Corp. announce recall of cell phone batteries
13-year-old cell phone user Michael Sathre
stood stunned, ears ringing, hand gushing blood after
his cell phone exploded. His father, Curtis said it was
like a bomb going off.
In a split second last August, fragments
from Michael's exploding cell phone had hit him between
the eyes and lodged in the ceiling of the family's home
in Oceanside, Calif.
Safety officials have received 83 reports
of cell phones exploding or catching fire in the past
two years, usually because of bad batteries or chargers.
Burns to the face, neck, leg and hip are
among the dozens of injury reports the Consumer Product
Safety Commission has received. The agency is providing
tips for cell phone users to avoid such accidents and
has stepped up oversight of the wireless industry. There
have been three voluntary battery recalls, and the CPSC
is working with companies to create better battery standards.
"CPSC is receiving more and more
reports of incidents involving cell phones, and we're
very concerned of the potential for more serious injuries
or more fires," said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson.
U.S. phone makers and carriers say most
fires and explosions are caused by counterfeit batteries
and note that in a country with some 170 million cell
phone users, the number of accidents is extremely low.
"Is it a problem? It has turned up,
you bet. But statistically it is extraordinarily rare,"
said John Walls, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications
& Internet Association. "But the fact that it
has happened certainly has the industry's attention."
Some consumer advocates say the cause
goes beyond bad batteries making their way to the market.
They point to the increasing pressure on battery and phone
makers to fit more capabilities into small instruments.
"If you're cramming more and more
power in a small space, what you're making is a small
bomb," said Carl Hilliard, president of the California-based
Wireless Consumers Alliance, which has been tracking incidents
of cell phone fires and explosions.
Though legitimate batteries can go wrong,
there is a greater chance that poorly made, counterfeit
ones will lack safety devices to detect overheating or
overcharging. The lithium-ion batteries found in most
cell phones can overheat if, for example, heat vents are
The CPSC is trying to determine if improved
venting is enough by itself to ensure safety. "We
have seen temperatures as high as 600 degrees, and you
can have a torch-like effect if these batteries don't
function properly," Wolfson said.
The commission has announced three battery
recalls since January, one from Verizon Wireless and two
from Kyocera Wireless Corp. Kyocera's first recall was
blamed on a supplier whose standards had slipped. The
other recalls were attributed to suppliers bringing counterfeits
into distribution chains.
Kyocera, which recalled 1 million batteries
last month, said it has changed vendors and doubled efforts
to test its own batteries.
Hoping to address problems that may lie
beyond their supply lines, members of the wireless industry
began collaborating last week with the Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a standard-setting organization,
to create voluntary design and performance standards for
"There needs to be high-quality batteries
for these cell phones. You have a lot of power in a very
small product, so it's really key," said Wolfson
of the CPSC, which is participating in the meetings between
wireless industry members and IEEE.
Carriers and manufacturers also are urging
cellular users to exercise reasonable care of batteries,
chargers and phones and to purchase them directly from
phone companies rather than secondhand dealers or off
Michael Sathre, who is expected to fully
recover from his wounds, was picking his fully charged
Verizon LG cell phone off the floor when it exploded by
his side. The family chose not to sue and has instead
allowed the companies involved and a consumer group to
come to their house to study the damage, in the hopes
it won't happen to someone else.
December 1, 2004