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Thousands Evacuated After Lithium Battery Blast

Posted on 7/2/2021 by Roger Marks

Last week, explosions rang out across a Chicago suburb after a fire broke out at what locals believed was a long-ago-abandoned paper mill. It turns out that the facility was now being used to store as much as 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries, authorities learned.

As toxic gas spewed from the damaged building, an evacuation order was issued for approximately 1,000 homes in a one-square-mile radius of the facility.

On July 1, Illinois EPA referred an enforcement action to the state Attorney General. Violations include the release of pollutants to the air and water and improper hazardous waste disposal. More violations may be added, the Agency said in a statement, as authorities learn more about the company’s activities.

In addition to potential civil or even criminal penalties, the enforcement referral would require the battery company to:
 
  • Determine the root cause of the fire,
  • Contain any releases or runoff,
  • Identify waste streams the site generates,
  • Provide a detailed inventory of the site’s materials and processes,
  • Develop and implement a plan to properly remove wastes from the site,
  • Perform on- and off-site investigation and remediation with an environmental contractor, and
  • Establish procedures to prevent another incident.

NBC Chicago shared video of the incident on their website.

Why EPA Requires Reporting and Contingency Planning

This event is a reminder of the hazards that lithium batteries pose, and why they are regulated as hazardous materials in transportation. It also reminds us why regulators sometimes require chemical inventory reporting and contingency planning.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act or EPCRA, for instance, facilities that store large volumes of some hazardous substances must provide local emergency responders with details about the types and quantity of chemicals on site.

If you ever wonder why it’s important for facilities to share information with local emergency response organizations, consider this:

Firefighters who responded to this incident first tried dousing the fire with water. They quickly stopped using water when they discovered the source of the flames–recognizing that water can exacerbate lithium battery fires.

Had they known what to expect, first responders could have come prepared. Instead, the lack of information impeded the response and the incident endangered firefighters’ lives more than necessary, 

Trusted Training to Ship Lithium Batteries

Ship lithium batteries? Whether you ship batteries alone, in equipment, or with equipment–by ground, air, or vessel–be confident you know the latest US and international regulations that apply to your shipments.

The Shipping Lithium Batteries online course guides shippers through Lion's 10 Step© process to offer lithium batteries for transportation in full compliance with 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code requirements.  

Identify ALL Your Environmental Responsibilities 

Join a Lion instructor for the next Complete Environmental Regulations Webinar, presented LIVE on July 21, 2021 from 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM ET. 

Discover the keys to applicability for major EPA programs under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, EPCRA/Right-to-Know, CERCLA/Superfund, TSCA, and more, including emergency preparedness planning and reporting. Identify your responsibilities for compliance and be prepared to make the right decisions and protect your organization's compliance record. 

Can't join us live? Train online anytime with the self-paced Complete Environmental Regulations online course. 

Tags: batteries, hazardous, lithium, materials

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