The U.S. Postal Service, effective May 16, has prohibited primary lithium metal or rechargeable lithium-ion cells and batteries, as well as devices containing the power packs, from being mailed internationally.
The move is temporary. USPS, which reported $3.2 billion in losses during the fiscal year third quarter, said it expects to lift the ban Jan. 1 on specific quantities of lithium batteries when they are properly installed in personal electronic devices. By 2013, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Universal Postal Union are expected to develop less restrictive standards that will allow limited mailing of lithium batteries.
It seems USPS just discovered that under existing postal conventions lithium batteries, which are classified as a “dangerous good” because they are flammable and capable of igniting under the right conditions, are not permitted to be shipped by air mail.
Individuals and electronic retailers can still rely on FedEx, UPS, DHL or other express delivery carriers to send electronic readers, iPads and other devices overseas.
The development stands in contrast to what is happening on the commercial airline side. The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to classify lithium batteries transported on aircraft as full hazardous materials subject to much different handling requirements. The effort has fizzled because the White House agreed with industry that the proposal would place an unnecessary burden on shippers, carriers and consumers. ICAO has adopted new international requirements for packaging and labeling lithium battery shipments that industry groups say protect aircraft if properly enforced.