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Fairfield startup working on child-safe battery technology

FAIRFIELD — Days after the U.S. Senate passed a law aimed at making it harder for children to ingest batteries, a Fairfield-based startup announced it has made serious progress on another way to make batteries safer.

Melissa Fensterstock, the CEO of Landsdowne Labs, said her company is developing a coating designed to prevent the child from being burned if the battery is swallowed.

“We’re developing a safer battery,” she said. “We’re tackling this problem around button battery ingestion.”

Button batteries — or coin batteries — are small, single-cell batteries commonly found in household products including toys, watches or hearing aids.

Batteries are the target of legislation recently passed by the U.S. Senate, according to a release from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office. On Monday, the senator met with doctors at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the mother of a child who survived swallowing a button battery to celebrate the passage of Reese’s Law, which is now awaiting signature by President Joe Biden.

The goal of that legislation, which Blumenthal championed, is to strengthen safety standards for battery packaging and products with small batteries frequently found in everyday items. It’s named in honor of Reese Hamsmith, an 18-month-old from Texas who died after swallowing a button cell battery from a remote.

“The legislation will protect children from these small button cell and coin batteries found in common household items including cameras, calculators, battery-operated candles, flashing apparel, and even greeting cards,” the release said. “If swallowed, these batteries can pose a serious danger to young children and infants, and can cause serious injuries, severe internal burns, or even death.”

According to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40,400 children aged 13 and younger were treated in hospitals for injuries related to swallowing batteries between 1997 and 2010. The CDC reports that approximately 80 percent of those children were treated and released without further hospitalization, but 3,900 had to be hospitalized and 14 died as a result of ingesting batteries. More than half of the batteries ingested were button batteries, it said.

Fensterstock said Landsdowne Labs has been working on the problem of children ingesting button batteries for more than a decade. It started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its co-founder is Robert Langer, who also co-founded Moderna.

“We definitely have a product on-hand,” she said. “It’s not launched or available on the market yet, but we’re getting close to doing so.”

Fensterstock said most children get injured by getting these batteries lodged in their esophagus, where a current forms between the two ends of the battery. She said that current leads to hydrolysis of water, which increases pH levels in the body, possible to dangerous levels.

“What our solution does is basically render that reaction inert,” she said. “So, there’s no hydrolysis of water. There’s no current formation between the anode and the cathode. That chemical reaction shouldn’t take place.”

Fensterstock said Landsdowne’s patent-pending technology uses niobium, a mineral found in the earth’s crust, to deactivate batteries soon after they get wet in the esophagus, stomach or intestinal tract—thus helping prevent electrochemical burns.

The company is working right now on scaling up production, Fensterstock said, adding they have made thousands of batteries already, but actually need millions.

“We are optimizing the manufacturing process and the supply chain,” she said. “The next step is me placing a purchase order, and we’re really close to doing so.”

Then, Fensterstock said, the product can get into the hands of consumers and of people manufacturing products. She said Landsdowne already has a number of companies — anything from medical device companies to toy companies, interested in buying their product.

Fensterstock said the battery and electronics industries need a solution for the problem dealing with the battery directly.

“Making devices more difficult to open is definitely a step in the right direction. Putting more warning labels is definitely a step in the right direction,” she said. “But, until the hazard is addressed at the level of the battery itself, we’re going to continue to see injuries and deaths.”

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