Texas teen electrocuted after cell phone accidentally falls in bathtub
I just saw this on one of my forums about electrical safety around water and thought I would share it here… —Mike
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – A 14-year-old girl from Lubbock died early Sunday morning [July 8] after being electrocuted in a bathtub. Madison Coe’s mother and grandmother tell us she was in the bathtub, and either plugged her phone in or simply grabbed her phone that was already plugged in. It happened at her father’s house in Lovington, NM. Madison just graduated 8th grade from Terra Vista Middle School in Frenship ISD. She was in the band, played basketball and was very bright.
“It is with heavy hearts that Frenship ISD mourns the loss of Madison Coe. We wish to share our heartfelt sympathy with her family and friends as we carry the burden of this tragedy together,” said officials with FISD.
“Madison was expected to attend high school in Houston, as her family was in the process of moving. Her family wants to spread a message of awareness, and to teach children the power of electricity and to not plug your phones in near water.”
So here’s what likely happened and what to watch out for. Madison was sitting in a bathtub full of water, which effectively grounded her completely. Her cell phone was plugged into a wall charger, which was plugged into a wall outlet. The news article says she may have just plugged in the charger, but I suspect she was shocked as soon as she touched the case of the phone. And here’s why:
While a wall-wart cell charger only puts out 5 Volt DC, it does have a direct connection to the 120-volt AC power line. It’s supposed to be insulated from the 120-volts so well that only a TINY amount of leakage current will flow through you if you pick up your cell phone while it’s plugged into the wall charger. That’s correct — there’s always SOME leakage current involved. Any product that’s UL listed and which doesn’t have a ground pin has to have less than 0.7 mA of leakage current to pass inspection. Interestingly, all phone chargers will energize the metal of your phone with around ½ of the line voltage, albeit at an extremely low current. So if you test your plugged-in phone with a NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester) it will likely show you the 60 volts on the phone metal. But that’s generally not dangerous since it’s probably only a few tenths of a milliamp of current.
The problem is, a lot of cheap wall chargers from China are NOT UL listed, and they skip some of the extra insulation that’s put into quality chargers sold by Apple and others. It’s also possible to damage the internal insulation in a wall charger by dropping it too many times or dunking it in water. So if you use a damaged or poorly designed wall charger for your phone it could be charging your phone up with a significant amount of fault current, enough to kill you if your body is grounded. But you won’t know this if you’re always using your plugged-in phone while sitting on your couch (it’s insulated) or standing on a wood floor (it’s also insulated from ground).
But stand in a puddle of water or shower or bathtub and touch ANYTHING plugged into a wall outlet and you’re putting yourself in danger. So just DON’T DO IT! And only purchase and use quality wall chargers from the phone manufacturers themselves. Don’t be tempted to buy those listed as the 4-for-$10 deals you often see on eBay. They won’t be UL listed, and they could become a dangerous shock hazard at any time.
NEVER touch a clock radio, curling iron, portable television, hair dryer, charging cell phone, or anything else plugged into an outlet while you’re in the bathtub, shower, or standing in a puddle. While you might be able to get away with it 999 times in a row, that 1,000th time could be deadly.
Let’s play safe out there… —Mike Sokol
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit NoShockZone.org for more electrical safety tips. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.