FAA slaps $175,000 fine on MIT for batteries that caught fire at FedEx

Two of 33 MIT electronic devices caught fire at FedEx facility

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today said it would seek a $175,000 civil penalty against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for alleged violations of Department of Transportation Hazardous Materials Regulations.

According to the FAA,  MIT offered a fiberboard box containing 33 electronic devices to FedEx for transportation by air from Cambridge to Seattle on Aug. 25, 2009.  Each electronic device consisted of a lithium battery attached to a circuit board and tube-like container. Lithium batteries have had a poor transportation safety reputation in the past.

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Something went wrong however  and the package was discovered with smoke and flames coming from it while it was moving on a conveyor at the FedEx sorting facility in Medford, Mass., the FAA said. 

"Two of the devices in the package heated and melted, which caused the surrounding cushioning and packaging to catch fire.  Because the package was not properly labeled and marked, Federal Express employees did not know the shipment contained hazardous material. They made several unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the flames with a fire extinguisher," the FAA stated.

 Specifically, the batteries were not packaged in a way that would prevent a short-circuit that could create sparks or generate a dangerous quantity of heat.  MIT allegedly offered the box when it was not packaged, marked, classed, described, labeled or in condition for shipment as required by regulations.  The airbill accompanying the shipment specifically stated the shipment did not contain dangerous goods, the FAA states.

MIT has 30 days to responds to the FAA.

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