The brain trust at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may be getting a $175,000 lesson in the dangers of lithium ion batteries for a 2009 incident that could have had tragic consequences. Someone at the school packed 33 circuit boards, each attached to a lithium battery, into a cardboard box and had FedEx pick it up for delivery to Seattle. The FAA says the box didn’t have the required dangerous goods declaration and labeling and wasn’t packed to prevent the batteries from short circuiting. It’s proposing a $175,000 fine against the august institution. Fortunately, freight handlers at FedEx’s sorting facility in Medford, Mass., discovered the improperly labeled and packed box when it burst into flame on their conveyor belt before being loaded on an aircraft.
The FAA says the MIT staff who packed the box weren’t properly trained (!) to handle hazardous material and the FedEx airbill they filled out had the box checked to indicate there were no dangerous goods inside. The agency said that meant FedEx staff didn’t know what was inside and when the fire started they tried unsuccessfully to put it out with fire extinguishers. There have been at least two cargo aircraft crashes in which lithium battery fires have been implicated. A year ago, a UPS Boeing 747 crashed in Dubai after a fire erupted on board and in July an Asiana Airlines cargo plane crashed off Korea and lithium cells were also implicated.