The new waste processing plant in Hampden still hasn’t reopened after a partially filled propane tank delivered to the center exploded on Thursday, causing a small fire in the machinery that produces bales of recycled goods and injuring a worker.
Employees of the Coastal Resources of Maine plant are still assessing how much damage the explosion caused and are making repairs, according to Director of Community Services Shelby Wright.
The plant will also probably update its safety protocols and more closely inspect incoming waste to help prevent any future mishaps, according to Wright. While the plant already has measures to remove hazardous materials from the waste stream — such as magnets that can attract metal objects and a policy of inspecting incoming loads of waste — the propane tank went undetected last week.
But there is only so much that Coastal Resources of Maine employees can do, Wright said, and she urged communities that send their household waste to the Hampden facility to ensure that it does not include any of the hazardous materials that are banned by their contracts with Coastal Resources of Maine, including propane tanks and fuel canisters for camping stoves.
Wright suggested that residents reach out to their public works departments, transfer stations and hardware stores for information about safe disposal alternatives.
“It’s really paramount that people think before they throw things out,” Wright said. “People’s lives may depend on it. We’re at the mercy of the people that bring us their trash.”
Wright declined to say how far the propane tank made it into the plant before it was punctured, causing it to explode and spark a small fire, but she said “a key piece of equipment” was damaged by the explosion. One nearby worker suffered minor injuries.
Deputy Chief Jason Lundstrom of the Hampden Fire Department, who was among the firefighters that responded to the call, said that the fire was in a piece of equipment that bales some types of cardboard, metal and plastic into large recycled bricks that can be resold on the commodities market. Lundstrom did not know whether the propane tank itself had made it into the baler.
While the waste plant has fire sprinklers, the fire on Thursday was too small to trigger them, Lundstrom said. After a worker pulled a fire alarm, the department responded and was able to stop the burn within minutes.
The Municipal Review Committee, an organization that represents the 115 Maine communities that send their waste to the Hampden plant, sent out an email to its members last week reminding them not to send hazardous waste and asking them to educate their own residents about the dangers.
Michael Carroll, the committee’s executive director, said the organization will continue to remind its members about those guidelines in future communications.
There are some cases in which Coastal Resources of Maine can pass the costs of disposing unacceptable waste to the communities or trucking companies that have delivered it, or to at least share those costs with the Municipal Review Committee itself, according to its contract with the sending communities.
But that section of the contract does not apply to repairing damage caused as a result of unacceptable waste, Wright said. She said it will be impossible to determine which community sent the propane tank last week.
Wright said she does not expect the current outage at the plant to continue for “an extended time,” but declined to offer a specific timeline for when it could resume accepting waste. In the meantime, communities are now shipping their garbage to landfills in Norridgewock and Old Town.