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MIT fined over air cargo package fire

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Institute of Technology is in trouble with the U.S. government for shipping a package that burned up before being loaded on a cargo jet.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday said it plans to fine MIT $175,000 for improperly marking and shipping electronic devices that caught fire on a conveyor at a FedEx sorting facility near Boston in August 2009.

The agency said MIT sought overnight shipping of a fiberboard box containing 33 small electronic devices from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Seattle.

Each device included a lithium battery attached to a circuit board and tube-like container. They were part of an experiment aimed at tracking the movement of trash.

Two of the devices, which were not identified, heated and melted, causing surrounding packaging to catch fire. FedEx employees noticed the burning package as it moved on a conveyor and unsuccessfully tried to extinguish smoke and flames.

The FAA said the batteries were not packaged to prevent a short circuit that could create sparks or generate a dangerous amount of heat. MIT did not properly mark or label potential hazardous conditions on the box, FAA said.

Documents showed the package involved researchers affiliated with an MIT-led project aimed at tracking trash in New York and Seattle to assess the costs of disposal and create awareness of the impact of trash on the environment.

A university spokeswoman could not immediately confirm where the package came from and had no comment on the FAA fine. The school has 30 days to appeal.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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