Evidence Management Community of Practice Newsletter


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Vol 1, Issue 3

In This Issue:

Welcome to the Evidence Management Community of Practice Newsletter

This monthly newsletter from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Evidence Management Steering Committee (EMSC) shares information, relevant articles, upcoming events, and training opportunities with evidence management stakeholders. The EMSC is co-funded by NIST and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

If you missed our previous issues, you can find them here

Ask the Steering Committee



In recent months, several readers have asked the EMSC how best to store electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vape pens,” as property and evidence. The U.S. Fire Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that the lithium batteries used in vape pens have caused fires and injuries. To address these questions, this newsletter focuses on the proper and safe handling of lithium batteries and property and evidence items that contain them.



Lithium batteries come in two types: primary (or single use) and lithium-ion (or rechargeable). Primary lithium batteries are found in small electronics such as hearing aids and watches. Lithium-ion batteries are found in smartphones, power tools, electric vehicles (golf carts and hybrid cars), and even Formula One electric race cars. Lithium batteries can store far more energy than other batteries of the same size; however, there are potential fire and explosion hazards because they can short circuit and overheat. Forensic practitioners and property specialists must understand the safety issues associated with lithium batteries and follow proper precautions. This is particularly true when transporting and storing lithium batteries and property and evidence items that contain them. 



While lithium batteries are generally safe, lithium is reactive, and compacting lithium into a battery cell creates a high-powered environment. When a battery with lithium is damaged, it has the potential to cause fires and explosions. This can cause injuries and destroy property, including other nearby evidence. Damage to lithium batteries can occur if someone:

  • Drops, crushes, or punctures a battery.
  • Fails to follow the manufacturer’s charging directions.
  • Exposes batteries to high temperatures, for instance, direct sunlight, heaters, or open flames.
  • Recharges batteries at below freezing temperatures.
  • Transports batteries without proper packaging.

Multiple batteries stored or transported together without proper packaging to prevent friction and movement can cause “thermal runaway”. This happens when a single battery overheats and the lithium combusts, heating the battery next to it and creating a chain reaction that results in a larger fire or explosion.

The Solution

The Solution

Signs that a lithium battery is damaged include odor, change in color, excessive heat, change in shape, leaking, and odd noises. Take special care when handling and storing damaged lithium batteries and keep them away from anything that can cause them to overheat or get wet. Since it is often difficult to determine if a lithium battery inside an item is damaged, all property and evidence containing lithium batteries should be treated and handled as if the batteries are damaged.

To remain safe and prevent damage, forensic practitioners and property specialists should adhere to the following guidelines when handling, storing, and shipping lithium batteries:

1. Management oversight

  • The handling of lithium batteries should be included in the organization’s policies and procedures for managing hazardous materials.
  • Property and evidence storage facilities should be equipped with the tools to safely handle and store lithium batteries, including a voltage checker, battery charger, dry sand, and an emergency kit.

2. Collection and handling

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling property and evidence with batteries, normally gloves and eye protection.
  • Inspect batteries for damage when possible and notify management when damage is found.
  • While batteries may be fully charged after seizure to conduct examinations, check the charge and voltage on batteries prior to long-term storage. The safe charge level for long-term storage, per U.S. Chemical Storage, is between 30% and 50%, and the safe voltage level is between 2.0 and 4.1 volts.
  • Avoid working with batteries in extreme temperature conditions. Normal room-temperature conditions are best.
  • Never work with lithium batteries near water or combustible chemicals.
  • Never clean a battery with water.
  • Never expose a battery to an open flame or heat source.
  • Avoid working in direct sunlight or in rainy conditions.
  • Do not remove or disable safety features on any property or evidence items with a lithium battery.

3. Packaging and transporting

  • Never leave lithium batteries inside a vehicle.
  • Do not let lithium battery terminals touch each other, as this may cause a spark resulting in fire.
  • Transport only the minimum number of batteries necessary.
  • Cover battery terminals with tape (e.g., cellophane, painters, or non-conductive electrical tapes). Do not cover the chemical makeup listed on the battery. Put taped batteries in a clear, anti-electrostatic bag. Separate packaged batteries and place them in metal containers (e.g., ammunition containers). Add sand to the transport container to prevent the batteries from striking each other.
  • For long distance shipping, follow federal Department of Transportation regulations, which include a limit on the weight of lithium content for primary batteries, and specify how the battery should be contained (e.g., loose, with equipment, or inside equipment).

4. Storage

  • Do not allow batteries to touch each other.
  • Put batteries in a clear, anti-electrostatic bag.
  • If containment is necessary, store in a metal container in controlled temperature conditions of 41°F/5°C to 68°F/20°C, per University of Washington. Periodically check and maintain the temperature of the storage container.
  • Periodically check batteries for irregularities in charge status. Keep them at the recommended 30% to 50% charge, especially batteries in electric vehicles.
  • Charge batteries on a surface that is flat, clean, and away from any heat sources.
  • Never charge batteries overnight.
  • Only use manufacturer-approved charging devices.
  • Check the tape on both battery terminals and reapply if necessary.
  • Never store heavy items above batteries to avoid crushing damage.
  • Never store lithium batteries near water, other combustible chemicals, or in a high humidity area.
  • Never stack or store batteries in a way that would cause them to vibrate excessively or hit each other, causing a spark.
  • For long-term storage, remove lithium batteries from property and evidence items when possible (e.g., cell phones, laptops, etc.).

5. Disposal

  • Follow state and local hazardous waste regulatory requirements. Lithium batteries must be disposed in accordance with the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
  • Before disposal, lithium batteries should not be charged above 20%.
  • Consult or contract with a responsible, electronic waste management company for proper disposal.

6. Health and Safety

  • In the event of a severe injury, call 911 immediately.
  • Injuries typically involve burns. However, if breathing is affected, move the injured person to fresh air. The first aid response for the injured area is to preserve the remaining skin around the burn.
    • If nose or mouth is involved, or if breathing is affected, call 911.
    • Quickly but gently remove any chemical on the affected skin area. Use any soft cloth available.
    • Wash the affected skin with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes or until help arrives.
    • If the eyes are affected, flush with copious amounts of water, including under the eyelids, for at least 15 minutes, or until help arrives.
  • Property and evidence rooms should have an emergency kit containing first aid materials, including dry cloths, burn salve, and several sizes of soft bandages.
  • Do not try to clean up large lithium battery spills or leaks. Call in a professional cleanup organization with expertise in cleaning lithium spills.  
Best Practices

Best Practices

The EMSC is developing a report on evidence management best practices for the proper handling, storage, and transport of property and evidence containing lithium batteries. This report will aid agencies in creating SOPs for their forensic units.

In the interim, there are several sources for useful rules and regulations related to the storage, shipping, and disposal of lithium batteries, including:

Interactive Guide to Shipping Lithium Batteries

This document provides a step-by-step guide on how to properly package and ship lithium batteries through the Federal Aviation Administration.

How to Safely Send Batteries and Battery Powered Devices by Mail

This document contains guidelines created by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the U.S. Postal Service for mailing lithium batteries.

Overview of the Universal Waste Program

This site provides an overview of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Universal Waste Program, links to federal universal waste regulations, and types of federal universal waste.

Was this useful?

Please feel free to provide feedback on this article and any other questions you have regarding property and evidence containing lithium batteries. If you have ideas on future articles or would like EMSC to provide more information on a specific topic related to management of evidence containing lithium batteries, please email us at: AskEMSC@nist.gov.

Click here to join the Evidence Management Community of Practice to receive future newsletters.


References and Additional Education Links

References and Additional Education Links

  1. Lithium Battery Safety. University of Washington, Environmental Health and Safety. (2018, April). Retrieved from https://www.ehs.washington.edu/system/files/resources/lithium-battery-safety.pdf
  2. Lithium Battery Safety Program. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from https://ehrs.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/2017-12/Lithium%20Battery%20Safety%20Program%202017-1.pdf
  1. Patterson, S., Beckett, A., Linter, A., Leahey, C., Greer, A., Brevard, B., Simmons, J., Kahn, S. (2017). A Novel Classification System for Injuries After Electronic Cigarette Explosions. NIH, National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27893577/
  2. Serror, K., Chaouat, M., Legrand, M., Depret, F., Haddad, J., Malca, N., Mimoun, M., Boccara, D. (2018, May) Burns Cause by Electronic Vaping Devices (E-Cigarettes): A New Classification Proposal Based on Mechanisms. NIH, National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29056367/
  3. Preventing Fire and/or Explosion Injury from Small and Wearable Lithium Battery Powered Devices. OSHA. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib011819.html
  4. Standard Interpretations, Interpretation of Standards Application to Battery Storage Installations. OSHA. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/1983-08-09
  5. OSHA Issues Safety Bulletin on hazards of Lithium Batteries, Lithium-powered Devices. (2019, February) Safety + Helath Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/18041-osha-issues-safety-bulletin-on-hazards-of-lithium-batteries-lithium-powered-devices
  6. Interactive Guide to Shipping Lithium Batteries. (2019, March) FAA. SafeCargo. Retrieved from https://www.faa.gov/hazmat/safecargo/media/Battery_Slides.pdf
  7. Lithium Batteries & Cells Shipping Guide. (2019) Retrieved from http://ftn.fedex.com/us/assets/docs/Lithium-Battery-Shipping-Tool_CY19.pdf?cmp=AFC-999999-1-1-0-0000010-US-EN-WEBUSLITHBATTR1
  1. 2020 Lithium Battery Guidance Document. (2020) IATA. Retrieved from https://www.iata.org/contentassets/05e6d8742b0047259bf3a700bc9d42b9/lithium-battery-guidance-document-2020.pdf
  1. Universal Waste. EPA. Hazardous Waste. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/hw/universal-waste
  2. Batteries and battery charging. OSHA. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1926/1926.441
  1. Lithium-ion Battery Safety for Consumers. (2017) National Fire Protection Association, NEPA. Retrieved from https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Public-Education/Resources/Safety-tip-sheets/LithiumIonBatterySafety.ashx
  1. How to Safely Send Batteries and Battery Powered Devices by Mail. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/training/hazmat/56781/how-safely-send-batteries-and-battery-flyer-final-version_2.pdf
  2. Call2recycle. Retrieved from https://www.call2recycle.org/
  3. How to Store Lithium Batteries. (2019, June) U.S. Chemical Storage. Retrieved from https://www.uschemicalstorage.com/how-to-store-lithium-batteries/
  1. FAQ on duct tape. Call2recycle. Retrieved from https://www.call2recycle.org/faqs/what-kind-of-tape-do-i-need-to-tape-the-battery-terminals-what-happens-if-i-dont-tape-the-battery-terminals/
  1. How to Responsibly Dispose of Lithium-Ion Batteries. (2019, May) SIMS Lifecycle Services. Retrieved from https://www.simsrecycling.com/2019/05/23/guide-how-to-responsibly-dispose-of-lithium-ion-batteries/
  1. Lithium Battery Safety and Handling Guideline. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved from http://ehs.whoi.edu/ehs/occsafety/LithiumBatterySafetyGuideSG10.pdf
  2. Expert Advice, Damaged Lithium-ion Batteries: Storing, Handling and Shipping. Retrieved from https://www.newpig.com/expertadvice/how-to-care-for-defective-lithium-ion-batteries/
  3. Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions in the United States 2009 – 2016. (2017, July) FEMA, U.S. Fire Administration. Retrieved from https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf
  4. Tips to Help Avoid "Vape" Battery Explosions. FDA. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/products-ingredients-components/tips-help-avoid-vape-battery-explosions

Upcoming Events & Trainings

International Association for Property & Evidence (IAPE) Training

A two-day, in-person training focusing on best practices for evidence & property room management. 

Due to COVID-19, dates of in-person trainings are changing daily. The most up-to-date list of upcoming Property & Evidence Trainings can be found here.

Unable to travel? IAPE offers two great online training options. Choose between a full two-day course or individual classes.

Click here to learn more about IAPE's online courses. 

Public Agency Training Council (PATC) - Managing the Property and Evidence Room 

A two-day training that provides participants with the techniques and responsibilities involved in the function of a property room.   

Due to COVID-19, dates of in-person trainings are changing daily. The most up-to-date list of upcoming Property & Evidence Trainings can be found here.          

California Association for Property & Evidence (CAPE) - Annual Training Seminar - October 19-23, 2020, San Diego, CA

CAPE's 31st Annual Training Seminar focuses on helping members stay up to date with current property & evidence management practices.

Law Enforcement Seminars (LES) - Police Property/Evidence Room Management November 19-20, 2020, Macomb, MI

A two-day course that offers introductory information on how to efficiently and effectively handle the property room.

Click here to see the full list of LES trainings available

Lithium Batteries in the News

  • LAFD to inspect vape and smoke shops following downtown explosion that seriously injured several firefighters
    | Read More

  • Batteries should not burst into flames
    | Read More

  • KCPD says evidence warehouse fire is unsolved, cause unknown. Best guess: a cellphone
    | Read More

  • First report on Surprise APS battery explosion that hospitalized firefighters offers few answers
    | Read More

More Evidence Management in the News

  • Despite Improvements, New York State Police Lab Has an 88% Sexual Assault Kit Backlog
    | Read More

  • Coronavirus Illinois: Sexual assault survivors seeking justice during the COVID-19 pandemic now have more options
    | Read More

  • Sharon police incinerate years' worth of drug evidence
    | Read More

  • Hundreds of pounds of drugs, paraphernalia destroyed from Eden Prairie evidence room 
    | Read More

  • Pennsylvania State Has Reduced its Rape Kit Backlog to 94
    | Read More

  • Knocking Down Barriers to Healthcare for Rural Sexual Assault Victims
    | Read More

  • Missed the Evidence Management Conference? 

    View all the presentations by clicking here.