Officials in Florida believe that the death of a 38-year-old man in St. Petersburg on Saturday is linked to the explosion of a vape pen, the Miami Herald reported on Sunday.
Details are scarce, including what kind of pen was involved in the tragic incident. But Spectrum News 9 reported that a St. Pete Fire Rescue unit responding to reports of a fire at the 300 block of 19th Avenue North discovered Tallmadge D’Elia dead with “multiple injuries to his face.” A spokesman for the fire department told the station that authorities’ current belief is that a lithium battery in the pen exploded, igniting a small fire, though it is unclear pending the outcome of an autopsy whether D’Elia died directly in the explosion or during the resulting blaze.
While the science is still catching up on how safe the vapor produced by the pen really is—it’s probably much less harmful than smoking, though the long term effects are unclear—explosions from poorly manufactured, malfunctioning, or misused e-cigarettes can be alarmingly powerful. In 2016, a French nightclub owner went to the hospital with severe burns after his e-cig blew up in his pocket, and in January 2017 an Idaho man lost seven teeth when his pen detonated with enough force to shatter a bathroom sink.
One death in northwest England was reported to have been linked to an exploding vaporizer, though the Scotsman reported it may have “ignited the oxygen tube of an oxygen concentrator, which may have been in use by the occupier.”
The US Fire Administration warned in 2014 that “the shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make them more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries to behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails.” The Food and Drug Administration recommends users consider pens with safety features, not leaving pens charging overnight or using off-brand chargers, only using undamaged batteries of the type recommended by the manufacturer, and never leaving batteries loose in pockets with metal objects to lower the risk of an explosion.
Said explosions don’t appear to be particularly common, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency identified 25 incidents over the years 2009-2014 from media reports alone, according to Wired.