Industry presses forward on lithium battery rule

The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is now accepting public comments on a proposal to “harmonize” federal hazardous material regulations involving lithium batteries with international standards.

The industry, which eclipsed $30 billion in 2010, favors the move because it would simplify the process of training employees involved with lithium battery shipments. They argue that the international standards are more stringent than those that currently apply to domestic shipments.

“Everyone seems to want one set of regulations,” said George Kerchner, executive director of the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association, which represents major manufactures including Energizer, Panasonic and Sanyo.

The group jumped into action after problems on the Dreamliner were linked to lithium batteries, issuing statements meant to draw a distinction between the plane’s batteries and those shipped in packages within cargo holds.

“(I)t is absolutely critical to understand the world of difference between the millions and millions of lithium ion batteries and products containing them that are safely packaged and transported on aircraft every year and the much larger lithium ion aircraft batteries that were actively being used as a power source onboard Boeing’s Dreamliner during the recently reported incidents.,” the association said in a statement issued this week.

Lithium batteries are used in a wide range of products, including notebook computers, mobile phones, medical devices and military equipment.

In the days following reports of problems on the Dreamliners, Kerchner was among those at a meeting with officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB.)

The meeting, also attended by representatives of the Cargo Airline Association and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, was devoted to discussion of the proposed rule. Kerchner said the Dreamliner probe did not come up.

Kerchner acknowledged that the scandal has brought added attention to the proposal, but said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that it wouldn’t get in the way of the rule’s finalization.