“I’d like to talk to you about rubbish,” said Stuart Lloyd of Zurich Insurance as he stepped up to the podium this afternoon to present at the 2015 Suppression, Detection and Signaling Research and Applications (SUPDET) Conference in Orlando, Florida.
The United Kingdom, where Lloyd is based, has a big problem with fire at recycling centers. Last year, the UK averaged one recycling center fire per week, many of them large events that took weeks to extinguish. One of those fires stretched for 7-acres and shut down a freeway and airspace around the facility, Lloyd said.
Despite the problem, efforts to regulate the industry have been met with resistance from recycling center owners, who choose to close rather than comply. That leaves cities to handle trash collection, which is not the outcome most municipalities are happy with. Protection efforts are also stymied in part by the perception that these facilities have little economic value, Lloyd said.
As a result, “there is no control on this industry and there is no legislation in the United Kingdom about the necessity to have sprinkler system inside of these buildings,” he said. “There is also a huge variation in management of the premises, which causes problems. We haven’t seen this issue tail off.”
Stuart Lloyd of Zurich Insurance presenting at the 2015 SUPDET Conference in Orlando, Florida.
During his presentation, “Emerging Hazards in Recycling Facilities,” Lloyd showed slides of some well-maintained and orderly centers, where waste was compacted into neat, tidy blocks. But photos of other recycling centers showed thousands of tons debris sitting in huge piles strewn haphazardly about the facility.
“These places are ticking time bombs,” Lloyd said.
Neither the fire service nor the centers themselves know what’s in these huge unsorted piles, but it can include anything from highly flammable plastics to lithium ion batteries, and any number of other potentially hazardous materials. Piles often give off methane gas, and spontaneous combustions are not uncommon, Lloyd said.
The Fire Protection Research Foundation, which is hosts the SUPDET Conference, has initiated preliminary research on burn characteristics at these facilities, but it will likely take years before more knowledge and better regulation is in place Lloyd said.
The 2015 SUPDET Conference, held from March 3-6 at the Wyndham Orland Resort, features more than 30 presentations on the latest developments in research, technology, and applications of fire suppression and detection from some of the world’s leading experts. The conference concludes tomorrow with presentations on water mist systems, suppression issues in museums and archives, and much more.