Florida Man Dies From A Vape Pen Explosion
Vape pen batteries are still totally unregulated in the U.S.
A Florida man was killed earlier this month by a vape pen explosion at his home in St. Petersburg. The incident appears to be the first vape pen fatality in the United States, reports The New York Times.
Tallmadge D’Elia, 35, died from a “projectile wound to the head” when a piece of shrapnel from the vape pen explosion hit him, according to William A. Pellan, director of investigations at the medical examiner’s office in Pinellas County, Florida.
D’Elia had suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body when he was discovered May 5. The vape pen explosion appears to have started a fire in the bedroom where he was found.
The vape pen, known as a “mechanical mod,” was made by Smoke-E Mountain Mech Works, based in the Philippines. Unfortunately, these devices seem to lack important safety features. In contrast to more common vape pens, mods typically don’t use voltage-regulating circuitry and allow users more access to the battery.
Mech mods are mainly popular among enthusiasts and experienced vapers, who enjoy the high degree to which they can create customized “big clouds.” Mech mods generally include three parts: the housing (tube- or box-shaped and made of metal or wood), one or more batteries, and an atomizer (the heating part of the device).
The company’s owner didn’t respond to emails regarding the vape pen explosion. However, a company representative told ABC Action News that its devices “do not explode.” The representative added that the battery may have been the source of the problem.
While this may be the first vape pen death, it’s far from the first vape pen explosion in the U.S.
A 2017 report from the U.S. Fire Administration reviewed 195 vape pen-related fires and explosions from 2009 to 2016, albeit none with fatalities. Those explosions resulted in 133 injuries, 38 of them severe.
A vape pen explosion typically occurs suddenly, the report found. They “are accompanied by loud noise, a flash of light, smoke, flames, and often vigorous ejection of the battery and other parts.” More than half of the time—in 128 incidents—fires started on nearby objects as a result of the vape pen explosion.
According to the report, e-cigs that use lithium-ion batteries represent a “new and unique hazard” because they explode more often.
“No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body,” the report said. “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.”
Vape pen safety is still unregulated.
In what is still the largest and most comprehensive report on the dangers of vaping, researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found “conclusive evidence” that vape pens “can explode and cause serious injury.”
There are currently no regulations applying to the safety of the electronics or batteries of vape pens, the Fire Administration report noted. Regulations are being considered by the Food and Drug Administration. There’s also little regulation of what goes into the vape pen cartridges themselves.
The FDA recommends not letting loose e-cig batteries come into contact with coins, keys, or other metal objects; not charging them with a phone charger; not charging them while unattended; and not mixing and matching different brands or old and new batteries.