Golf Cart Charging Safety

Recently, the fire department responded on an incident in which a carbon monoxide detector activated and the cause was not determined initially. When the gas company came out to investigate further it was determined that the alarm was set off due to the overcharging of a golf cart battery. There is an article in Firehouse Magazine titled “The Unexpected Golf Cart Hazard” that I was able to locate.

In the article, a fire department from central Florida was dispatched on a carbon monoxide detector that had alarmed. After ventilating the structure the apparent carbon monoxide levels dropped to zero. The electric golf cart was unplugged and the residents felt fine and declined any treatment. The fire department units returned in service but decided to do some additional research. It was noted that there were similar carbon monoxide detector activations involving golf carts that were being charged.

It was determined that lead batteries do not emit carbon monoxide. They do, however, emit hydrogen. It was also noted that carbon monoxide detectors will activate when exposed to high amounts of hydrogen. Hydrogen gas like carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas.

The dangers of hydrogen can include asphyxiation, fire and explosion. For a fire and/or explosion to occur there would need to be:

  1. Accumulation of hydrogen gas
  2. Failure to detect the hydrogen
  3. Source of ignition

Little data is available indicating the health effects of long-term exposure to the gases given off during a battery charging process. The quantity required to cause death is very substantial. Many occupants have complained of headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing and vertigo. This is believed to be caused by the oxygen displacement in a well-sealed home rather than the hydrogen gas itself.

Newer golf carts and chargers do allow for the automatic shutoff of the charging system when the cycle is completed. Some of the older golf cart models and after-market charging systems do allow for the continuous charging and as a result can produce continuous production of hydrogen gas.

If you own an electric golf cart or an after-market charging system for the cart it is recommended that you check with the manufacturer to find out if your system allows for the automatic shutoff when the charging cycle is completed.

Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal Jeff Johnson

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