Another blaze at a waste facility hit the headlines recently. The fire was at a Stockport recycling plant where bales of recycled material were stored before transfer to energy plants in Europe. The fire required a huge effort by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service to bring it under control. Around 50 fire fighters had to sift through 6,000 one tonne bales of waste. They reported that the height of the stored material and weight of the bales made the fire particularly difficult to tackle.
This is the latest in a long list of major fires at waste facilities in the UK. Over the past three years fire services have reported an increase in the number of fires at waste transfer stations, with one reporting a 200% increase over the last 12 months. Within just the last couple of months there have been major fires in Widnes, and another in Birmingham which involved 100,000 tonnes of plastic which was said to be caused by a Chinese lantern.
Waste facilities such as these are heavily regulated and subject to a strict regime administered by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. In light of such a spate of large fires at these facilities, it is thought that there may now be a push to review the health and safety requirements for such facilities.
Following any fire at a permitted site, the Environment Agency will take a close look to see whether there has been any breach of permit conditions such as the type or amounts of waste stored. They will also investigate any pollution caused by the fire, for example pollution to local watercourses caused by run off from the water used by fire fighters to tackle the blaze. Companies found to be in breach of permit conditions, or other environmental laws relating to pollution, could face prosecution and significant fines, or even imprisonment for individual directors.
By Julie Goulbourne, environmental prosecutions solicitor
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