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ASHINGTON – Battery-powered medical carts have exploded or burst into flames in numerous hospitals, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday in a warning letter to health care providers.

The FDA reported that the carts typically contain high capacity lithium or lead acid batteries that can power workstations and medical devices for many hours. Although convenient, these battery-powered carts can spark, overheat, emit noxious fumes, and cause other hazards. The agency urged hospitals and clinics to pay greater attention to preventive maintenance.

From Jan. 3, 2013, to July 21, 2016, the agency received 12 reports of cart-related smoke, fire, melting batteries, burning and other hazards, according to an agency spokeswoman. No injuries were reported, but one hospital had to evacuate patients and staff due to smoke and fires.

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“Such hazards may result in equipment and facility damage, hospital evacuation or patient and staff injury,” the letter said. “In addition, lithium battery fires are very difficult to extinguish. In several reports, firefighters had to bury mobile medical cart batteries to extinguish a fire.”

FDA regulates battery-powered medical carts as medical devices and collects reports of fires and related adverse events. Wednesday’s warning covers a range of carts, including crash carts, those that dispense medication, or those that are accessories to colonoscopes, ultrasound machines, and anesthesia machines.

The agency recommends that hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities perform preventive maintenance, including inspection of batteries for signs of damage; inspection of chargers and carts for overheating; and replacement of batteries at the interval suggested by the manufacturer.

FDA said that health facilities should conduct a survey of battery charger locations, to ensure that they are all in fire retardant spaces and away from patient care areas or open sources of oxygen.

The agency also told health care facilities to request maintenance and user manuals from the manufacturer, and to follow its guidelines.

“The FDA will continue to monitor adverse events associated with battery-powered carts and encourage health-care professionals to report these events to the FDA,” said spokeswoman Deborah Kotz.

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  • Lithium Batteries grow a crystalline structure that passes through any seperator breach eventually touches the anode causing heat, fire, and explosion. This growth occurs but will occur in cracked seperator environments. There is a new lithium battery design that eliminates this hazardous situation and failure mode, but the new design is not in the medical device makers product.

  • In my experience lately, battery quality from the manufacturers are more and more of very poor quality–even from name brand manufacturers. While this article is a good reminder for clinical engineering personnel, a follow-up story researching the decline in battery quality could also shed some light on this emerging problem.

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