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Burned again, Kyocera recalls more phone batteries

A renegade supplier may have flooded U.S. market with up to a million bogus batteries.

Kyocera Wireless on Thursday expanded from 40,000 to 1 million the number of possibly counterfeit cell phone batteries it began recalling in May, blaming the mushrooming impact on an allegedly renegade former battery supplier.

Kyocera started its "small-scale battery replacement program" in May after discovering a batch of about 40,000 batteries supplied by Hecmma Group of El Paso, Texas, contained counterfeits, said Kyocera Wireless spokesman John Chier. "After we issued the recall and terminated their contract, we found that they were continuing to supply the batteries to the gray market" of sometimes dubious wireless goods outlets, Chier said.

The recall now includes the KE/KX 400 series, 3200 series and its popular Slider series cell phones sold at Alltel, Cricket Communications, MetroPCS, US Cellular and Verizon Wireless stores nationwide; telemarketing retailers; and various Web sites.

The batteries on these phones are prone to overheating, say safety officials. More than a dozen phones with the batteries attached have overheated, causing two minor burn injuries, according to a spokesman for Kyocera Wireless.

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Hecmma has a manufacturing facility in Juarez, Mexico, and also supplies batteries to Makita Corporation, Mag Instruments and ProDentek, according to its Web site. A representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The latest round of alleged counterfeits feature Kyocera's company logo, giving the appearance of Kyocera-approved batteries. The company is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to locate the counterfeit batteries and prosecute the supplier, which is based in the United States.

The wireless phone maker noted it does not know what percentage of the batteries it received from Hecmma Group contain unauthorized battery cells, because detection is determined only after the battery has been disassembled.

Over the past 15 months, the industry has been hit with reports of exploding cell phones, with some of the earlier cases occurring in the Netherlands and others later surfacing in the United States.

In August 2003, a Dutch woman received injuries to her hands from an exploding Nokia phone, and two months later a Dutch man incurred burns to his legs after a Nokia handheld exploded in his pants pocket.

In October of last year, Kyocera temporarily halted shipments of its KE413 Phantom phone models after a Nebraska family reported one such device had vented hot gasses. The cell phone maker determined it was an isolated problem and resumed sales a week later.

And in July 2004, a California teenager was injured after her Kyocera 2325 cell phone caught fire. Nearly all of the reported incidents to date have largely been caused by defective or counterfeit batteries, according to law enforcement and handset makers.