Sony Will Recall Batteries; CPSC Offers Tips for Safe Notebook Use

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Toshiba Corp. announced on Friday that it would recall 830,000 batteries manufactured by Sony in response to a statement by Sony that it would initiate a global recall of all its battery packs, PC Magazine reports. This followed Thursday's announcement by IBM and Lenovo Group that they will recall 526,000 rechargeable lithium-ion Sony batteries purchased with ThinkPad computers. Sony spokesman David Yang said that Sony would announce its recall program in the “near near future,” PC Magazine says.

The company said that it wanted to reassure all notebook PC users, including those who weren't sure if their computers were part of the recalls, that Sony would provide a replacement program for everyone, Yang told PC Magazine. Sony is working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and other consumer agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

The CPSC, responding to battery safety concerns, last week published a list of tips for safe computer use. While many of the tips are probably well known to most computer users, the list is a useful reminder for those who may have learned these safety practices informally. A somewhat controversial suggestion is not to use the computer on your lap.

The CPSC's list says:

  • Do not use incompatible computer batteries and chargers. If unsure about whether a replacement battery or charger is compatible, contact the product manufacturer.
  • Computer batteries can get hot during normal use. Do not use your computer on your lap.
  • Do not use your computer on soft surfaces, such as a sofa, bed or carpet, because it can restrict airflow and cause overheating.
  • Do not permit a loose battery to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewelry.
  • Do not crush, puncture or put a high degree of pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.
  • Avoid dropping or bumping the computer. Dropping it, especially on a hard surface, can potentially cause damage to the computer and battery. If you suspect damage, contact the manufacturer.
  • Do not place the computer in areas that may get very hot.
  • Do not get your computer or battery wet. Even though they will dry and appear to operate normally, the circuitry could slowly corrode and pose a safety hazard.
  • Follow battery usage, storage and charging guidelines found in the user's guide.

The first step in eliminating the battery accident problem is for users to check their batteries. Computer manufacturers' websites have easy-to-follow instructions for their battery recall programs. Dell tells its customers on its battery recall website not to use batteries while awaiting a replacement. “You may continue to use your notebook computer using the AC adapter power cord originally provided with your notebook.”

In a press release last week, the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association said that “the lithium-ion batteries that power the consumer electronics revolution are a fundamentally safe technology. . . . Only a tiny fraction of the recalled batteries pose a problem because lithium-ion batteries incorporate several redundant protective mechanisms.”

New lithium-ion battery standards were discussed at a meeting of the International Printed Circuit Association's (IPC) OEM Critical Components Committee meeting in San Jose, California, last month, chaired by Dell. Hewlett-Packard, Polycom and Lenovo also participated in the meeting, reports. The group hopes to have new standards ready by the second quarter of 2007.

For notebook users, however, the battery recall will mean some inconvenience since they will be restricted to using their computers with a power cord. With a recall this large, the Toronto Globe and Mail says consumers should expect to wait at least 20 days for their new battery packs.

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