Button cell and coin batteries are ubiquitous. They power countless products that consumers use on a daily basis: key fobs, remote controls, bathroom scales, electronic watches and jewelry, decorative ornaments, flameless candles, and even musical greeting cards. But button cell and coin batteries also pose a unique hazard.
On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed Reese's Law (P.L. 117-171), which aims to protect children 6 years and younger from ingesting button cell and coin batteries. Reese's law requires the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to promulgate a safety standard for these batteries and consumer products containing these batteries. This law raises a host of compliance questions for manufacturers and importers including what products will be covered, what performance standards will apply, and what will be required in terms of labeling and packaging.
According to Reese's Law, "button cell and coin batteries" are batteries with a diameter greater than the height of the battery. These batteries are not only an ingestion hazard; because of the diameter-to-height ratio, button cell and coin batteries can create an electrical current and leak harmful chemicals within minutes of ingestion that lead to burns and tissue damage. Given the serious risk posed to young children, Reese's Law subjects these batteries and consumer products containing these batteries to requirements in performance and warning labels (Section 2) and packaging (Section 3).
Section 2: Performance and Labeling of Products Containing Button Cell or Coin Batteries
Section 2 of Reese's Law requires the CPSC to mandate by rule performance standards for battery compartments and warning labels on products containing button cell or coin batteries and their packaging, and instruction manuals.
On February 9, 2023, the CPSC met the congressional mandate in Reese's Law and issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) on performance and labeling of button cell and coil batteries. Per the NPR, performance requirements vary depending on if the battery compartment is designed for replaceable or non-replaceable batteries:
- For replaceable batteries, products should (1) have a locked compartment that requires a coin, screwdriver, or household tool to access; or (2) require two independent and simultaneous hand movements to access the battery compartment. The battery compartments also need to meet certain use, abuse, and accessibility tests which judge performance during reasonably foreseeable use or misuse of the product. For example, heat pre-conditioning stresses the plastic components to simulate more realistically the product's condition during normal use, and mechanical pre-conditioning requires the compartment to be opened and closed a number of times to assess durability and the ability to remain secure over time under repeated use. Accessibility testing probes the product based on the size of a child's finger to verify whether the compartment can be opened by children.
- For non-replaceable batteries, products must meet the same requirements as those with removable batteries, or be secured with soldering, fasteners such as rivets, or equivalent means. The compartments must also be tested for secureness by, for example, using a test hook to apply a force of 22 N (4.9 lbf) directed outwards for 10 seconds at all possible points to ensure the battery cannot be freed from the product.
Also, according to the NPR, warning labels will be regulated as to both placement and content. Warning labels must be included both on packaging and directly on products when practicable. Labels directly on products must be visible while the battery is being replaced or upon access to the battery compartment. They must be visible, prominent, legible, and permanent; use contrasting colors and a "WARNING" statement in black letters on an orange background; contain a safety alert symbol; and include the following messages in bold and capital letters:
- "INGESTION HAZARD: DEATH"
- "KEEP new and used batteries OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN"
- "Seek immediate medical attention if a battery is suspected to be swallowed or inserted inside any part of the body"
In addition to the warning labels required for products and packaging, instructions and manuals accompanying consumer products with button cell and coin batteries must include three additional statements:
- "Immediately dispose of used batteries and keep away from children. Do NOT dispose of batteries in household trash."
- "Even used batteries may cause severe injury or death"
- "Call a local poison control center for treatment information"
Section 3: Packaging of Button Cell and Coin Batteries
Section 3 of Reese's Law covers packaging requirements for button cell and coil batteries sold separately and for products containing these batteries. More specifically, packaging must comply with 16 CFR 1700.15, poison prevention packaging standards. This means child-resistant packaging, or "special packaging" under the Poison Packaging Prevention Act, which is designed or constructed to be significantly difficult for children under the age of 5 to open within a reasonable time, but which is not difficult for adults to use properly.
Although packaging requirements apply to all button cell and coin batteries manufactured or imported after February 12, 2023, a letter from Congress on January 30, 2023, clarified that companies could continue to sell through existing stocks of batteries during the transition period.
Although it has broad reach, certain products are exempt from Reese's Law and its requirements. More specifically, toy products (those designed, manufactured, or marketed as playthings for children under 14 years old) compliant with the battery accessibility and labeling requirements of 16 CFR part 1250, which mandates that toys comply with the provisions of ASTM F963-17, the Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, are exempt from performance and labeling requirements (Section 2).
Similarly, batteries that are already packaged and marked in accordance with ANSI C18.3M, the Safety Standard for Portable Lithium Primary Cells and Batteries, are exempt from packaging requirements (Section 3).
With several months (until August 16, 2023) before a final rule is enacted, some specifics are still being considered. For example, during a January 18, 2023, CPSC meeting, the CPSC Commissioners questioned the strength of certain existing standards. For example, although certain toy products are currently exempt, Commissioners raised the fact that they had sent a letter to the ASTM toy subcommittee in August 2022, indicating that the current requirements did not provide adequate protection and that they would be following up on these issues with recommendations.
Additionally, beyond what is called for by Reese's Law, the February 9, 2023, NPR imposes notice requirements on manufacturers and importers of button cell and coin batteries and the consumer products that contain these batteries. More specifically, consumers must be able to view battery-related performance and technical safety data at the point of sale, regardless of whether they are purchasing products online or in-store. Consumers should also have access to information regarding battery type, battery chemistry (e.g., silver oxide or lithium), and nominal voltage. Warnings for button cell and coin batteries must appear on sales materials and include a warning against mixing together different battery types or batteries of different ages.
The CPSC has identified Reese's Law as a high priority for 2023. Manufacturers (and anyone else in the supply chain) who deal with button or coin cell batteries or consumer products that contain these batteries should educate themselves on the requirements for performance, labeling and packaging. Additionally, although the CPSC's proposed rulemaking is currently limited to button cell and coin batteries, there may be more changes to come. Reese's Law empowers the CPSC to extend these requirements to any battery that the CPSC determines is an ingestion hazard.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.