Demolition of Lawrence Recycling plant begins

Fire crews have begun the demolition of part of a recycling plant in Kidderminster that has been burning for over a month.

The fire began on 16 June at the Lawrence Recycling facility on Stourport Road, Kidderminster and has since been burning large amounts of baled commercial and household waste including paper, plastic and cardboard.

Despite Wyre Forest District Council (WFDC) initially stating that the costs of demolishing the plant were ‘prohibitive and not justifiable’ last month, equipment has now been set up to demolish two fire-damaged bays at the site in order to help extinguish the blaze.

According to WFDC, the cost of the actions is approximately £250,000 and is being met by the Environment Agency, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, Wyre Forest District Council and Worcestershire County Council. WFDC has said that the public sector has had to step in to deal with this matter because Lawrence Recycling is ‘unable to meet the costs at present’. It added that ‘steps will be taken in due course to seek to recover the public sector’s expenditure on dealing with this matter’.

The council has stated that demolishing the plant ‘section by section’ will provide safer working conditions for firefighters, as the building was ‘structurally unsound’, restricting access to the fire and presenting an ‘unacceptable risk to fire fighters’.

A fire service spokesman said crews, a specialist demolition firm and the Environment Agency will oversee the operation that could take ‘up to a week’.

Possible health hazards assessed

Between 17 and 23 July, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service removed over 500 tonnes of unburnt waste from the site and sent it to landfill. The remaining waste on site will now be dampened down before being removed, whereafter the building will be demolished ‘a section at a time’.

However, concerns have been raised about the possibility of various health hazards arising from the fire service operation. The service has acknowledged that moving waste off-site may result in a ‘flare up and a little more smoke’, but says that firefighters will be on site to extinguish any possible flare ups.

Air monitoring was conducted between 17 and 18 June and found that ‘there were no concerns for public health and that continued monitoring would not be required’. However, in view of the length of time over which the fire has continued to burn, WFDC has said that it has organised further air quality monitoring over the course of the demolition operation, with results being made available.

Furthermore, a statement from WFDC asserted that any water used to tackle the blaze would be contained in tanks at Severn Trent Water’s Oldington Sewage Works. It will then be assessed whether it should be treated at the works or taken away to a larger treatment facility.

Dave Throup, Environment Manager from the Environment Agency said on 21 June: “We have been working closely with all partner agencies to review the options for managing the fire and its possible impacts.

“As well as our work at the site of the fire, we have worked closely with the Canal and River Trust to increase the levels of oxygen in the canal, which has helped protect thousands of fish. We have also moved around 300 fish to healthier water in the canal upstream in the centre of Kidderminster.”

However, the BBC reports that 200 fish were killed after water used by fire crews drained into the nearby Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The water reportedly washed organic matter into the canal, which broke down and depleted oxygen levels to one per cent. Canal and Rivers Trust members have since restored oxygen levels to 58 per cent.

‘Considerable improvements’ needed

This is not the first time a fire has broken out at the Lawrence site. In December 2012 a ‘deep-seated’ fire broke out in a warehouse on the site, requiring 15 fire appliances to bring it under control.

Lawrence Skip Hire Ltd, which operates at the site, has been served a partial suspension notice by the Environment Agency, which prevents it accepting any new deliveries to the site. It can, however, continue to collect and take waste to other waste treatment facilities in the area.

However, WFDC states that it ‘would need to make considerable improvements to the building before they could accept waste safely at the site’.

Read more about the Lawrence Recycling demolition project.