How Samsung’s Lithium Battery Woes Differ From Other Cases

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One million Samsung phones have been recalled after reports of them catching fire while charging.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission told consumers to stop using the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones, and to power them down immediately.

There have been reports of the phones’ batteries overheating, resulting in burns and property damage fires.

“It doesn’t explode in the sense of a big fireball kaboom. It’s more of a chemical explosion,” said Brad Cimaglio, owner of Skyway Techs in downtown Minneapolis.

Cimaglio specializes in technology repairs. If there is a hazard to his job, it is what he finds inside many smartphones.

“The problem with lithium ion batteries is that they are like pressure cookers. It’s like a powder keg of chemicals,” Cimaglio said.

Carpet burned by lithium ion battery (credit: CBS)

Carpet burned by lithium ion battery (credit: CBS)

He understands Samsung’s recall because he has proof of what these batteries can do, showing WCCO a burn mark on the floor of his office.

This recall is not without precedent. Nokia recalled 46 million cellphone batteries in 2007.

“Any phone can explode. iPhone had this problem in 2015 and 2016. It just wasn’t prevalent enough to issue a recall,” he said.

But Samsung’s situation is different. While battery fires happen because they have been damaged or punctured, the Note 7 phone batteries have not been touched.

“That’s what separates the Samsung issue from all the other phones. The unprovoked explosions are very rare,” he said.

Cimaglio believes it is a manufacturing error that caused this. The recall comes at a time when the Note 7 is new to the market, and Samsung’s biggest competitor – Apple — is getting ready to release the iPhone 7.

Lithium Ion Batteries (credit: CBS)

Lithium Ion Batteries (credit: CBS)

“This is terrible timing. Terrible timing for them,” Cimaglio said.

Samsung customers are being offered replacement devices or full refunds if they choose.

Note 7 owners just need to contact Samsung and provide a number from the back of the phone to find out if it is part of the recall.

Following Thursday’s formal recall, the FAA revised its warning. Note 7 owners must not only turn off the device on airplanes, but also protect the power switch to keep them from turning on accidentally.

More from John Lauritsen
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