Covanta facility under investigation following dayslong fire in Maryland

Dive Brief:

  • Officials in Maryland are investigating whether ongoing issues at the Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility operated by Covanta played a role in a December fire, as reported by The Washington Post.
  • According to records the facility had 105 days of unscheduled outages between March and October of 2016, which meant the county had to find alternative disposal methods for 55,000 tons of waste. The site often stored more than its 12,000-ton limit, including the day that the fire began, though Covanta said this did not violate its state permit.
  • The County Council has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 2 to discuss the fire and potential ways for the county to become more involved in the facility. The county's Department of Environmental Protection is expected to present the results of its investigation at the hearing.

Dive Insight:

The Dec. 8 fire occurred in the facility's storage pit and took 11 days to fully extinguish. Six firefighters required medical treatment and their union has filed a complaint with Maryland Occupational Safety and Health alleging that proper safety precautions weren't taken. No cause has been officially identified yet and Covanta maintains that facility conditions were not a factor.

The unscheduled outages have been attributed to the challenges of finding parts for the more than 20-year-old facility. Some county officials have said they're still not convinced that site maintenance did not play a role in the fire and plan to explore this at the February hearing. Further investigation may trigger the need for increased site inspections and evaluations for facilities of similar age and operation.

This was not the first fire at the facility and incidents are common when dealing with waste at incinerators, material recovery facilities, landfills or transfer stations. In some cases the effects can be minor though in others they can disrupt local waste operations for weeks or months. 

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Filed Under: Corporate News Regulation Waste-to-Energy