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E-cigarette explosions: Why it’s happening so often

Chris Ramirez
May 04, 2016 10:46 PM

E-cigarette sales are skyrocketing across the United States and Europe.  The industry is growing and marketing itself as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. But as sales have increased, so has the frequency of explosions.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people around the world have fallen victim to the lithium ion batteries used by e-cig manufacturers blowing up and causing serious injuries.

"I started to hear a really loud hissing.  I felt something burning my leg," said Albuquerque resident Greg Trujillo told the KOB 4 Investigates Team.

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While driving near the intersection of Rio Grande and Candelaria, he had a vaping mod and two spare batteries inside his pocket.  He didn’t realize it at the time, but there was a short in the batteries, which caused them to heat to the point of explosion.

"At first I tried to put it out," Trujillo said.  "It was getting bigger and bigger and hurting more and more.  Instinctively, I tried to put the car in neutral and get out.  I had my seatbelt on and a jacket underneath.  Whatever was burning me, I wanted to get out."

The explosion severely burned Trujillo’s left leg, thighs and buttocks.  He stayed at the burn unit for 10 days at University of New Mexico Hospital.

"It really is amazing that an e-cig could do that much damage," Trujillo said.

The trend is so alarming, the U.S Fire Administration studied the phenomenon and issued a report warning of the dangers.  The agency noted, "No regulation, code or law applies to the safety of the electronics or batteries in e-cigarettes…there are no requirements that e-cigarettes be subjected to product safety testing."

The agency noted several other incidents:

In Colorado, an e-cig exploded in a man’s face, sending burning debris and battery acid into his mouth, face and eyes.

In Florida, an e-cig exploded in a man’s mouth, causing severe burns.  He lost teeth and part of his tongue.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have done several tests on lithium ion batteries. Private companies and government agencies have asked Sandia to test the batteries to see what causes them to fail.

"We test batteries to the limit," Christopher Orendorff, a scientist at Sandia, said.  "We push them to failure and all the testing we do is to try to understand the failure modes."

Orendorff explained that lithium ion batteries often short circuit.  A short will cause heat inside the battery, which leads to self-ignition.  Scientists call that a thermal runaway reaction. 

Coins, keys or other metals touching the battery ends can cause a shirt circuit.

Trujillo’s medical bills are piling up.  He’s on a heavy dose of medications and skin creams. He would like to sue the battery manufacturer, but the batteries didn’t come with a label, manufacturer name, or serial numbers. Who to hold unaccountable is still a mystery.

"The batteries are very dangerous," Trujillo said.  "I think e-cigs are cool up until they burn you and maim you, to tell you the truth." 


Credits

Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2016 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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