A recent article published in the Daily Beast focused on the uptick in e-cigarette explosion cases seen at Vanderbilt University’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care. The surgeon interviewed for the article has treated 30 people for exploding e-cigarette injuries. The injuries treated include third degree flame burns, chemical burns and damage to teeth and facial tissue.
Exploding Battery Injuries
The trauma surgeon interviewed for the Daily Beast article said the following about the injuries she’s seen and treated:
Flame burns, the most common injury, usually occur when the device or a replacement battery explodes in a user’s pocket and catches their pants on fire.
“That will result in higher temperatures being close to the skin for longer,” Thompson, who said she’s attended to about 30 e-cigarette explosion cases, explained. “And that’s how you get deeper burns.”
Those burns are usually third-degree burns, the most severe type, which can damage tissues and nerves to the point of a person losing their sense of pain. Treating them requires skin to be scraped from other parts of the body and grafted on to the injury site, a process which Thompson describes as “very painful.”
Some patients also suffer chemical burns from the liquid inside the e-cigarette. These burns are usually second-degree—less severe, but much more painful.
If a patient is smoking or holding the e-cigarette when it explodes, they can also suffer blast injuries, like Brown’s severed artery. That can include broken teeth, face fractures, even avulsions, Thompson said—an injury characterized by large pieces of skin being ripped away.
Although D’Elia is the only other death documented in news reports, grisly injuries—including a New York man who was left with a hole in his tongue and a 14-year-old who was blinded in one eye after his e-cig exploded at a Brooklyn mall—are not uncommon. In 2016, Thompson and her Seattle colleagues published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing the 15 cases they’d seen in their hospital, featuring grotesque images of hands and faces blackened by e-cigarette explosions.
The FDA is concerned about the rise in adverse events from e-cigarette use, including overheating and exploding batteries and has been working since July 2017 on developing safety standards. Several e-cigarette brand manufacturers like JUUL Labs and Vuse (owned by R. J. Reynolds) told the Daily Beast that they have taken precautions to keep consumers safe. The problem with these claims is that the explosions are typically not caused by the vaping device. The explosions result from exploding lithium-ion batteries, which are used to power the heating element of the vapes. As long as vape manufacturers, distributors and retailers continue to buy cheap Chinese – made batteries to sell to consumers for use with their vapes, the problem with exploding batteries will continue to rise.
Lithium-ion Battery Manufacturing Process
Canister lithium-ion batteries are made by layering three strips – one outer strip of anode; one middle strip of a plastic separator; and another outer strip of cathode. Using ultrasound welding, tabs are welded to the anode and cathode. The three strips are rolled up in “jelly roll” fashion and inserted into a metal canister. Electrolytes are added. A vent is inserted at the top end of the canister. The function of the vent is to release gas pressure, so that, for example, in the instance of a short circuit, the pressure will not cause an explosion. The manufacturing process should be performed in a sterile to ensure that manufacturing debris does not contaminate the jelly roll. Also, the welding process must be controlled to ensure that it does not create large burrs in the jelly roll. Large burrs or pieces of foreign debris caused by shoddy manufacturing are substandard and create an unreasonably dangerous risk of internal short circuiting.
Many of the exploded batteries that have been tested by experts contain manufacturing debris and/or burrs, which could compromise the battery’s separator, cause an internal short circuit, and result in thermal runaway. Unless the vent works properly, the thermal runaway will cause gas pressure to build up until the metal canister explodes.
There are also reports of Chinese companies that purchase rejected batteries from other manufacturers and re-label the defective batteries for sale. This practice is called “re-wrapping.”
The bottom line is that safety standards must focus on the batteries. If you vape, we recommend that you do not buy Chinese-made batteries for your device. As a final precaution, we recommend that you go to the battery manufacturer’s website and check your battery to make sure that it is not a counterfeit. Check the battery package or box for the website address and code.
Phelan Petty Seeks Justice for Victims of E-Cigarette Battery Explosions
At Phelan Petty, we fight for justice and compensation on behalf of victims who have suffered lithium-ion battery explosion injuries. We consult with world-class experts and never hesitate to stand up to big corporations and their insurance companies on behalf of our clients.
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to a lithium-ion battery fire or explosion, schedule a free case assessment with one of our product liability attorneys today by completing our online contact form or calling 866-249-3164.