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Battery basics

What you don’t know about batteries can hurt you

SAFETY MOMENT 

Batteries provide a portable, and usually safe, source of electricity. From batteries in our cellphones to industrial-sized backups, we rely on them every day. 

Although batteries may seem harmless, safety should always be a top concern when using and replacing them. 

Batteries produce hydrogen gas. When hydrogen gas mixes with oxygen and meets an ignition source, like a spark, an explosion can occur. Excess hydrogen gas is most likely to be created when batteries are charging or when batteries are mismatched, damaged or connected incorrectly. 

Hydrogen gas also is generated as batteries discharge, through use or gradual self-discharge, increasing pressure in the battery and causing the insulating seals at the end of the battery to rupture. As batteries age, the steel outer canister may corrode or rust. The crystals found on corroded batteries can cause respiratory, eye and skin irritations. 

Tips for using batteries safely 

Here are some tips to help you use this dependable source of power safely: 

Always note the warnings and the manufacturers’ instructions for both the batteries and the battery-powered product. 

Do not mix batteries of different brands. 

Confirm that the contacts of both the battery and product are clean of any corrosion. 

When inserting the battery, match the positive and negative symbols of both the battery and product. The product may operate even if batteries are installed backward, accidentally charging the batteries and resulting in venting or leaking. 

Safely dispose of used batteries. 

Don’t mix batteries of different types, such as alkaline and nonalkaline or rechargeable and nonrechargeable. 

Do not heat or damage batteries. 

When storing a device, remove its batteries to prevent damage to the item from battery corrosion. 

Protecting children from batteries 

With electronics getting smaller, many devices now use coin-size lithium batteries, also called button batteries. 

Little kids love to explore and put things in their mouths, but these batteries can cause serious injury when swallowed. If a coin lithium battery gets stuck in the esophagus, there may not be any immediate symptoms, but the saliva triggers an electrical current. The chemical reaction can cause it to burn through the tissue in as little as two hours. This can require multiple surgeries and ongoing medical care to repair. Even after the battery is removed, there can be side effects to vocal cords and windpipe. 

If you know or suspect your child has swallowed a battery, go to the emergency room immediately. 

Each year in the United States, nearly 3,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for swallowing these tiny batteries. 

Keep coin-size, lithium battery-controlled devices, including remote controls, watches and singing greeting cards, out of sight and reach of children. Childproof your home as much as possible, and be aware of your child’s surroundings and what could be dangerous. Consider placing duct tape over the controller to prevent kids from reaching the battery, and always lock away loose batteries. 

Cellphone batteries 

Use only the manufacturer’s original battery or one from a well-trusted brand. 

Don’t leave your device in hot areas while charging. This increases its chances of overheating, and temperature affects batteries. 

While your phone is charging or while you’re using functions that cause it to overheat, remove it from its case for better ventilation.

Recycling batteries

You must properly dispose of rechargeable and cellphone batteries. Do not dispose of them in your trash, but instead recycle at your local solid waste district or other retailer accepting these batteries. Many lithium-ion batteries contain metals that are toxic to the environment and they also cause a potential fire hazard. 

To prevent leakage and fires, wrap the terminals in tape and/or enclose the batteries in a separate small plastic zipped bag before recycling.

You can drop rechargeable and cellphone batteries, which includes the most common type—lithium-ion and “button” batteries—at participating retailers such as Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Staples, Best Buy and others. We highly suggest you call ahead to confirm they are accepting batteries and what type.

To locate participating retailers in your area go to click here. Call2Recycle provides photos and types of batteries for identification purposes. For more information on battery recycling, go to Call2recycle.org.

Or, check the Consumer Technology Association’s recycler locator, which accepts a wide variety of recycled products. Search by zip code, then click on “More Info” for a listing of recycled products accepted. 

It is becoming harder to find recyclers that take single-use, alkaline batteries. Some local solid waste districts take them or have special collection events throughout the year.

The Kentucky Energy & Environmental Cabinet maintains a listing of recycling programs and resources here. Search for “recycling centers” or go to Kentucky Recycling Centers by County.

Please DO NOT automatically drop batteries at recycling centers. Call to confirm the types of batteries they accept.

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