An incorrectly disposed of lithium-ion battery appears to have been the cause of a Jan. 20 fire at the Portland, Maine, material recovery facility (MRF) operated by Ecomaine. Initial investigations point to the fire having begun when a lithium-ion battery from a drill or another tool was broken, and volatile chemicals inside interacted and ignited nearby materials, according to Ecomaine.
“Rechargeable batteries are a great technology, but they are becoming much more prevalent all the time, and they can be dangerous if they are put into everyday recycling or trash,” says Ecomaine communications manager Matt Grondin.
According to Ecomaine, at approximately 3:45 p.m. Jan. 20, Ecomaine’s recycling operations staff noticed a smoldering section of material that quickly filled the area with smoke. They then alerted the Portland Fire Department.
The fire was contained quickly, though smoke persisted in the plant for a few hours, as crews removed flammable cardboard and paper from the affected area.
“We are exceptionally glad that no one was hurt, and that we are able to re-open today,” says Ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche. “However, we need to impress upon Maine residents that rechargeable batteries must not go into the normal waste stream. This event reminds us that failing to follow disposal directions can have serious, real-life consequences and can put livelihoods and property at risk.”
Ecomaine officials say they will continue to urge residents to treat rechargeable batteries as the hazard they can be and to return them to locations that can dispose of them properly. “Mainers can visit ecomaine.org or Call2Recycle.org to find a location near them — a hardware store, a transfer station or another facility — where they can safely drop off rechargeable batteries,” says Grondin. “This way, they won’t endanger our staff, our plant, or Maine’s recyclables.”
Ecomaine, which is based in Portland, describes itself as a municipally owned nonprofit recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state’s population in 70 member communities.