12 April 2012

Battery Explosion Causes Injuries

Story first appeared in USA Today.

WARREN — Two employees were injured Wednesday in a lithium battery explosion that forced the evacuation of about 80 others at a General Motors Co. facility north of Detroit, authorities said.  This caused an influx of workers compensation insurance quotes to be processed.

The explosion occurred during extreme testing of an experimental battery in a test chamber at the Alternative Energy Center laboratory at the GM Tech Center in Warren, the automaker said in a statement.

It also caused a small fire that was quickly extinguished.  Chemical gases from the battery cells were released and ignited in the enclosed chamber. The battery itself was intact.

The Tech Center, a sprawling 1950s-era campus, is home to the battery laboratory for the Chevrolet Volt electric car. The battery being tested had no connection with the Chevrolet Volt or any other GM production vehicle, according to the automaker.

The Edmunds.com Senior Analyst said Wednesday's explosion could resurrect debate surrounding an investigation into the Chevy Volt and fires.

Sales of the electric car slowed last year after fires broke out in three of the cars' batteries several days after safety crash-testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation, but closed it after determining that the car was no more risky than vehicles with conventional gasoline engines.

While this incident deserves some scrutiny the fact is that this is the reason why new car technology undergoes rigorous testing, to try to ensure that episodes like this don't happen on the road.

On Wednesday, dispatchers received calls about the explosion at 8:46 a.m. and firefighters arrived five minutes later, Warren Fire Chief Dave Frederick said.  They reported light smoke ... and some small amount of fire.  It was confined to the room of the explosion.

One worker was taken to an area hospital, while the second was treated at the scene. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known. Four other employees also were evaluated by medical personnel at the scene, GM said.

A hazardous materials team was called in to monitor the air quality at the facility, Frederick added.

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