Beveridge & Diamond
 

U.S. Postal Service Bans International Mailing of Lithium Batteries

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., May 16, 2012

On May 14, 2012, the U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) published a final rule prohibiting, at least for the time being, all outbound international shipment of lithium batteries via USPS as of May 16, 2012.[1] The prohibition applies to lithium ion and lithium metal batteries and regardless of quantity, size, watt hours, and whether the cells or batteries are packed in equipment, with equipment, or without equipment. Provisions governing both domestic shipment by USPS (including United States territories) and shipment by other carriers (e.g., UPS, FedEx) are not affected by the rule.  

This USPS prohibition follows discussions of the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) Working Group on Lithium Batteries. In February 2012, the Working Group agreed to amend the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air to impose more stringent requirements for shipping lithium batteries and cells by air. At the same time, the Working Group agreed to add provisions on transport of lithium batteries by post, based on a proposal by the Universal Postal Union.[2] 

The revised ICAO rules take effect on January 1, 2013. At that time, national postal authorities will be specifically authorized to permit international shipment of limited quantities of lithium metal or lithium ion batteries contained in equipment, up to four cells or two batteries per package, if the shipments meet the Section II exceptions under Packing Instructions 967 or 970, as applicable. Also starting January 1, 2013, national postal authority rules must be approved by the civil aviation authorities in each country to ensure consistent international application of the ICAO Technical Instructions. 

The new USPS prohibition apparently arises out of concern that until the revised ICAO provisions take effect, U.S. mail rules would have allowed international postal shipment of lithium batteries, but the ICAO would not have explicitly allowed them. The USPS previously withdrew a rule that would have restricted the conditions under which lithium batteries could be mailed internationally from the United States, responding to a request by ICAO to review the changes and ensure consistency.[3] The USPS prohibition may therefore be revised in the future to allow international shipment of lithium batteries contained in equipment (consistent with Section II of Packing Instructions 967 or 970) once the ICAO provisions are in effect. 

The prohibition will appear in the Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual 601.10.20. The USPS will also publish amendments to 39 CFR Part 111 to reflect these changes. 

For more information, please contact Elizabeth M. Richardson at erichardson@bdlaw.com, Aaron H. Goldberg at agoldberg@bdlaw.com, or Alexandra M. Wyatt at awyatt@bdlaw.com.


[1] U.S. Postal Service, Mailings of Lithium Batteries, Final Rule, 77 Fed. Reg. 28259 (May 14, 2012), available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-05-14/pdf/2012-11459.pdf.

[2] See Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., “New Rules for Lithium Battery Air Transport” (Mar. 16, 2012), http://www.bdlaw.com/news-1325.html.

[3] See Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., “Congress Limits DOT Authority over the Transport of Lithium Batteries” (Feb. 8, 2012), http://www.bdlaw.com/news-1298.html.