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E-cigarette fire risk leads Hennepin Co. to curb battery recycling

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Hennepin County is immediately ending battery recycling at city and county buildings, libraries, schools, and community centers because people are leaving electronic cigarettes in collection bins, creating a fire hazard, officials said Wednesday.

The county made the change after an active vaping pen started smoldering in one battery recycling receptacle, forcing the Westonka Library in Mound to call the fire department, said Hennepin County spokesperson Christina Schmitt.

"The good thing was it was during open hours because somebody saw it and called the fire department before it caught the library on fire," she said.

Since it’s difficult to remove the battery from an e-cigarette casing, people are disposing of the items with the batteries intact, the county said in a statement.

That’s a problem because the devices also contain push button activators that turn on the heat element “with very little pressure … The combination of vape pens/e-cig devices that heat up when activated and rechargeable batteries that are flammable is dangerous,” the county added.

Hennepin County will continue to accept batteries at drop-off facilities in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park.

Officials added that alkaline batteries do not contain hazardous material and may be placed in the trash, although the county will recycle them at the remaining drop-off locations.

Button batteries, lithium-ion and other rechargeable batteries contain toxic metals and county resident should bring those to the Bloomington or Brooklyn Park facilities, or hazardous waste event collections.

Residents who want to recycle their vaping device but can’t remove the battery should bring the entire device to one of the county drop-offs, the county added.