Exploding Cell Phones
Curtis Sathre said it was like a bomb going off. His 13-year-old son Michael stood stunned, ears ringing, hand gushing blood after his cell phone exploded. Safety officials have received 83 reports of cell phones exploding or catching fire in the past two years, usually because of bad batteries or chargers. Burns to the face, neck, leg and hip are among the dozens of injury reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received. The agency is providing tips for cell phone users to avoid such accidents and has stepped up oversight of the wireless industry. There have been three voluntary battery recalls, and the CPSC is working with companies to create better battery standards. “CPSC is receiving more and more reports of incidents involving cell phones, and we’re very concerned of the potential for more serious injuries or more fires,” said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson.
U.S. phone makers and carriers say most fires and explosions are caused by counterfeit batteries and note that in a country with some 170 million cell phone users, the number of accidents is extremely low. “Is it a problem? It has turned up, you bet. But statistically it is extraordinarily rare,” said John Walls, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. “But the fact that it has happened certainly has the industry’s attention.”
Some consumer advocates say the cause goes beyond bad batteries making their way to the market. They point to the increasing pressure on battery and phone makers to fit more capabilities into small instruments. “If you’re cramming more and more power in a small space, what you’re making is a small bomb,” said Carl Hilliard, president of the California-based Wireless Consumers Alliance, which has been tracking incidents of cell phone fires and explosions.
If there have only been dozens of reports, I’m certainly skeptical of this one. Presumably, some portion of the reports are either false or based on misuse of the equipment (think “Tim ‘The Toolman’ Taylor”). I’m guessing that the chances of getting injured from an exploding cell phone are roughly equivalent to scalding one’s legs with McDonald’s coffee and certainly lower than getting into an automobile accident while yapping on a non-exploding cell phone.