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Mon, Oct 2 2006

Sony battery recalls: more to come?

The recalls of lithium-ion batteries used in notebook computers has been expanding regularly since August.  Recently, we learned that there may be more recalls to come -- and these may go beyond computers, involving other electronic products as well.

The culprit behind all of these recalls: lithium-ion batteries made by Sony Energy Devices Corp., of Japan.  Sony, the supplier of batteries to many notebook computer manufacturers, has already announced it will be executing a global exchange program for potentially hazardous batteries.  The company is currently working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to identify the products that could potentially pose a fire risk.  CPSC spokesperson Julie Vallese said the agency expects to announce a Sony recall sometime in October.

"The upcoming Sony recall could very well expand beyond notebook computers and could include DVD players and portable gaming devices," said Vallese. The Wall Street Journal has reported almost as many fires related to portable DVD players as for laptop computers. The CPSC is in the process of verifying the actual number of reports. "The risk of a battery fire is low, but real," Vallese added. There are billions of batteries in service, but only 47 fires reported, she noted.

Product defects fall into two classes: design defects and sample defects. Design defects affect an entire production run of a particular product.  Those problems are usually easy to identify and fix.  Sample defects affect only some of products of the production run and are usually due to poor quality control.  The latter is the case with the defective Sony batteries.  Some battery cells manufactured on one of Sony’s production lines during a specific period of time were contaminated with microscopic metal particles.  The particles can come into contact with other parts of the battery cell, causing a short circuit and sometimes a fire.  But tracking down the products that contain defective batteries isn’t easy once they’ve been distributed throughout the marketplace. Consumer Reports believes Sony is doing the right thing by casting a wide net to get all potentially affected products out of the hands and homes of consumers.

What to do


Batteries for notebook computers from Dell, Apple, IBM, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Fujitsu notebook computers have recently been recalled for a variety of problems.  You should check www.recalls.gov if you think you may have an affected model.  Meanwhile, watch for future recall notices of Sony batteries, as well as notebook computers, and possibly portable DVD players and gaming devices, by regularly visiting www.recalls.gov.  In the meantime follow our safety tips for protecting your computer from overheating. 
 
About This Blog

Welcome to Consumer Reports on Safety.  This blog allows us to provide up-to-date reports of product safety hazards that can imperil you and your family.  We'll cut through the ad hype, PR spin, and government rhetoric to give you unbiased insight and analysis of safety issues that are important to you.

Our mission:  To work for a safe marketplace and to empower all consumers to protect themselves from preventable injury and illness.
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    Donald L. Mays

    Don Mays is Senior Director of Product Safety and Consumer Sciences at Consumers Union (CU), publisher of Consumer Reports. He leads the organization’s product safety program, designed to reduce the number of unsafe products in the marketplace. He also directs CU’s testing departments responsible for reports on a wide variety of consumer products including juvenile products, foods, health, and fitness products. Mays currently serves on the board of directors for the International Consumer Products Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) and is an active member of the Executive Committee on Consumer Products for ASTM-International, a leading standard-setting organization. He holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering.


    Caroline Mayer
    Caroline Mayer is a former Washington Post reporter who has specialized in consumer issues. She has covered a wide range of consumer stories, including product safety, marketing (especially to children), scams, bankruptcy, and credit. Mayer wrote about many of these issues in a consumer blog that she launched for the Post in 2006. She has won several awards for her consumer coverage, including the Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award in 2006.
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