In early January, an e-bike’s battery burst into flames while charging in a Bronx restaurant, starting a four-alarm fire that drew more than 150 first responders and left one firefighter seriously injured. In December, a man was killed and multiple families displaced when the nine e-bike batteries he was charging erupted inside his East Village apartment. And that’s just the beginning.
Last year, there were 104 fires in just New York City caused by e-bike and e-scooter batteries, resulting in 79 injuries and four deaths. These numbers more than doubled from the previous year, when 44 fires led to 23 injuries, up from 28 fires in 2019.
In NYC, the people most threatened by these rising numbers are the estimated 65,000 delivery workers. Commonly classified as independent contractors by gig companies like Uber and DoorDash, they must spend their earnings to buy their own electric bikes and batteries, and they often charge the batteries in their homes, sometimes just a few feet from their beds.
There’s an initiative to establish physical hubs throughout the city where gig workers can use the bathroom, enjoy a meal, repair their bikes and charge their batteries safely. They could also offer resources to help gig workers apply for insurance.
Source: “E-Bike Batteries Are Catching on Fire Way Too Often,” Curbed, Jan. 25, 2022
A hidden risk: underground coal fires.
The Marshall Fire, which burned approximately 6,000 acres in Colorado last December, was the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. Authorities are still investigating what caused the blaze, but one possibility is the area’s abandoned coal mines, experts say.
In 1883, a fire raged through an underground Colorado coal field, causing a blaze that the state’s first mining inspector deemed “impossible to extinguish.” Nearly 140 years later, two fires still smolder in the now-abandoned coal field near Boulder.
Across the U.S., at least 259 underground mine fires burned in more than a dozen states as of last September, according to federal Office of Surface Mining data. There are hundreds and possibly thousands more undocumented blazes burning in coal seams that have never been mined, researchers and government officials say.
Such fires can be ignited by lightning, humans and even spontaneously at temperatures as low as 86 degrees Fahrenheit, according to experts. Many are impossible to put out, slowly burning underground as the combustion feeds off a small amount of oxygen present in the coal. The fires emit toxic mercury and carbon dioxide, and cause sinkholes when the ground’s surface collapses into burned cavities below.
The estimated future cost to control the 200 known abandoned mine blazes across the U.S. is almost $900 million, according to the Office of Surface Mining database.
Source: “Deadly Colorado blaze renews focus on underground coal fires,” Associated Press, Jan. 30, 2022
Software flaws could let criminals hijack Teslas.
A 19-year-old cybersecurity researcher in Germany was performing a security audit for a French company when he noticed something unusual: a software program on the company’s network that exposed all the data about the chief technology officer’s Tesla Inc. vehicle. The data included a full history of where the car had been driven and its precise location at that moment.
He also discovered that he could push commands to Tesla vehicles whose owners were using the program. That capability enabled him to hijack some functions on those cars, including opening and closing the doors, turning up the music and disabling security features. (He couldn’t take over the cars’ steering, braking or other operations, however.)
He found more than 25 Teslas in 13 countries throughout Europe and North America that were vulnerable to attack—and subsequent analysis indicated there could have been hundreds more. The flaws aren’t in Tesla’s vehicles or the company’s network but rather in a piece of open-source software that allows them to collect and analyze data about their own vehicles.
Source: “Teenaged Cyber Prodigy Stumbles Onto Software Flaw Letting Him Hijack Teslas,” Bloomberg/Insurance Journal, Jan. 14, 2022