UPDATE: Investigators determine faulty battery caused CNG truck explosion in NJ

UPDATE: Investigators in Hamilton, NJ have determined that a faulty battery compartment started the electrical fire that caused a CNG garbage truck to explode last week, according to Police Capitan James Stevens.

The fire spread from the battery to one of the CNG fuel tanks, causing the tank’s pressure relief device to activate and vent fuel into the air, as reported in Next-Gen Transportation News.

The garbage truck operators tried to extinguish the flames, and failed to do so before calling 911.

Dive Brief:

  • A garbage truck running on natural gas caught fire and exploded on a street in Hamilton, NJ on Tuesday around 2 p.m., damaging four houses. No injuries were immediately reported, according to NJ.com.
  • One of the truck's four natural gas tanks exploded and "rocketed" a hole into a nearby home. Debris was shot into a second home, and two other houses suffered broken windows and melted siding. Hamilton police Capt. James Stevens explains that the tank "exploded like a missile."
  • Township police, fire investigators, and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office are all investigating the fire and explosion.

Dive Insight:

The trend of shifting refuse fleets to compressed natural gas (CNG) has taken the industry by storm, allowing public and private fleet operators to adapt a clean and efficient alternative to diesel fuel. However, dangers of this shift — including fires and explosions — remind the industry that safety always needs to be at the forefront.  

"This is not the first time there has been an incident like this involving a refuse truck using natural gas.  As the use of CNG-fueled trucks becomes more common, we need the manufacturers and users of these vehicles to take all necessary precautions to prevent these incidents," said SWANA CEO David Biderman via e-mail.

According to a case study funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, each CNG vehicle has built-in natural gas meters to detect leaks from seals or damage. However, these meters are not always 100% dependable. The study indicates that the most important step a CNG truck driver can take if threatened with a fire is to "safely eject the burning load and pull the truck away."

Biderman explained that SWANA is working with waste industry groups interested in the safety issue "to develop better solutions for haulers and local governments.”

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Fleet Management