MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In an instant, lithium ion batteries can destroy a device. Used in everything from key fobs to greeting cards, it’s the batteries in vape pens Hennepin County is worried about.

“Batteries have been a concern for fires for a while,” said Angie Timmons of Hennepin County Environmental Services.

A recycling receptacle at the Westonka Library recently started to smolder after a vape pen was tossed away. It didn’t cause any damage, but it did prompt the county to discontinue collection at community spaces.

“We just can’t put our libraries and our employees and our residents in that risk anymore. But it was a very hard decision for the county to make,” said Timmons.

The big concern is the push button on many vape pens which heats them up with very little pressure.

“The increase in vape pens people — the health concerns around that — I think there was just a big rush of people trying to get those out of their hands,” said Timmons.

Lithium ion batteries are becoming a problem for Waste Management as well.

“It’s a hazard to both our employees and to the public,” said Waste Management’s Julie Ketchum. “At our Twin Cities Recycling Facility, we have fires there about once or twice a month.”

They’ve also seen blazes in the back of their garbage trucks.

“Don’t put them in the recycling and don’t put them in the trash,” said Ketchum.

Residents are still able to recycle batteries at the county’s drop-off facilities in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park.

Many local businesses like Best Buy also accept rechargeable batteries that they will dispose of responsibly.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says there are additional counties in Minnesota that are pulling their unmanned battery recycling containers as well due to the fire potential. The agency suggests that the safest option is to take used batteries to Household Hazardous Waste facilities. More information is available here.

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