An autopsy has confirmed that a vape pen was to blame in the tragic death of a Florida man on May 5. This incident marks the first confirmed case in which an e-cigarette explosion resulted in a fatality. The 38-year-old was killed when his vape pen exploded, which sent projectiles into his head, and started a small fire in his home in St. Petersburg, Florida.
According a report from the Tampa Bay Times, Tallmadge D’Elia was found on May 5 in bedroom of his family’s home. The autopsy lists cause of death as “projectile wound of head” — when the pen exploded, at least two pieces of shrapnel struck him in there. Moreover, the victim suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body.
While there have been at least 195 incidents in which a vape pen or e-cigarette exploded or caught fire between 2009 and 2016, no deaths were reported in that time period. However, those incidents did result in 133 injuries, 38 of which were severe, the U.S. Fire Administration reports. The explosions generally are sudden, “and are accompanied by loud noise, a flash of light, smoke, flames, and often vigorous ejection of the battery and other parts.” A majority of the incidents also started fires in or on nearby objects.
As with other exploding pieces of technology (namely smartphones and hoverboards), it would appear that the problem is linked to lithium-ion batteries.
“No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body,” the Fire Administration’s report notes. “It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries that have been seen. While the failure rate of the lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences of a failure, as we have seen, can be severe and life-altering for the consumer.”
In the aftermath of the Florida tragedy, there may finally be some regulations placed around the batteries of e-cigarettes. As it stands, none exist, though the Food and Drug Administration is said to be considering them already. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a few safety recommendations with regard to e-cigarettes and vape pens. The agency cautions users from carrying e-cig batteries loose in their pockets, “especially where they might come into contact with coins, keys or other metal objects which can cause the battery to short out.”
You should also avoid using your phone or tablet charger to recharge your device. Only use the charger that was intended for the e-cigarette. Furthermore, you shouldn’t charge your vape while sleeping or leave it unattended, and should always charge it on a flat surface away from anything flammable. If batteries are damaged or get wet, replace them, and don’t mix and match different battery brands or old and new power sources. Finally, avoid altering the device, and do not leave it in extreme temperatures, such as in direct sunlight or in a freezing car overnight.
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