Huge hazardous waste blaze takes over Remondis site
Firefighters are this morning continuing to fight a fire at a hazardous waste facility operated by Remondis after it broke out on Sunday (4 December) morning.
Crews from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service were called to the company’s waste transfer facility on in Prescot, near St Helens, around 6am on Sunday morning.
The fire covered an area of approximately 10,000 square metres of a warehouse at the site, which processes both hazardous and non-hazardous waste materials, including ‘photographic film, paints, oils, cleaning products and laboratory smalls’.
Huge plumes of smoke rose from the site and drifted across the M57 motorway as around half of the warehouse was involved in the fire, and by 9am on Sunday, parts of the building showed signs of collapse and witnesses reported hearing explosions in the morning, but no injuries have been reported by the fire service.
At the height of the fire, 12 pumps were in attendance, with up to 80 firefighters involved in the operation.
The fire service says that it has scaled down the firefighting activity after good progress was made on Sunday, but that isolated pockets of the fire are still being dealt with.
While the smoke from the fire has been ‘significantly reduced’, this morning a mile-long cordon remained in place in the streets around the facility, with no vehicles permitted into the cordoned area and limited access being provided to surrounding industrial sites. Forty business premises had been evacuated on Sunday as a result of the fire.
A decision was due to be made this morning as to whether to reopen the road.
— Mersey Fire (@MerseyFire) December 5, 2016
Due to the nature of the waste being treated on the site, the Environment Agency and other partners have been providing advice and guidance to Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service since the fire broke out to ensure the risk to people and the environment is minimised.
However, the fire service also stated that local residents should keep all doors and windows closed and that those with pre-existing health conditions should keep medicine closed and contact the NHS if they felt ill.
Site had “environmental protection at its heart”
The £8.5-million Remondis UK site opened in 2013, with the German-owned company expecting it at the time to process up to 69,000 tonnes of hazardous waste a year.
The facility was built as a completely undercover ‘total containment’ site, meaning that no waste would be handled outside and that air and liquid waste emissions would be monitored or filtered before leaving the plant.
Remondis stated that through the facility it attempts to ‘return as much material as possible to the commercial cycle through closed-loop recycling’. It does this by operating a ‘complete chain of services’ itself, from logistics and sorting to the marketing of the recovered materials and fuels.
Steve Moore, then North West Director at the Environment Agency and now the watchdog’s Director of Operations, said when the site opened that it would “set a new benchmark for the hazardous waste industry” in the UK and that “the design of this plant is exceptional – both in terms of creating an effective business process and keeping environmental protection at its heart”.
Local opposition to facility
However, plans to open the site were opposed by a group of local residents, as well as local Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, and yesterday Prescot North Liberal Democrat Councillor Carl Cashman told the Liverpool Echo that the fire an “environmental disaster”.
Cashman said: “The blame lies with the council. Labour voted it through. We warned them and they ignored us; they allowed this to happen.
“We would like the facility to remain closed, certainly for the imminent future and preferably forever. It’s extremely worrying as we don’t know what heavy duty hazardous waste they’re burning in there.
“I will also approach Remondis and ask them to put residents first because I believe that there is a genuine concern that there is possibly extremely dangerous chemicals in that smoke.”
A Green Party spokesperson added: “We have always been under the assumption this would happen – it was a matter of when not if. Knowsley council has serious questions to answer now over their decision to approve such a site.”