Batt, Portable, Laptop, Phone

INMETCO building severely damaged Sunday in fire

ELLWOOD CITY — Residents near the INMETCO facility were advised Sunday morning to remain in their homes and close their windows — which wasn’t really an issue following an overnight frost — during a fire in one of the battery processing plant’s buildings.

Brian Melcer, Lawrence County Public Safety director, said the fire affected INMETCO’s West Building, where several types of batteries, including lithium-ion, were being stored for processing at the facility, located on INMETCO Drive, near the border of Ellwood City, Ellport and Wayne Township.

The factory is owned by the Allegheny County-based Horsehead Corporation. INMETCO employees were working in the building when the fire started, and called 911 to report the blaze, but Melcer said all of the employees made it out of the building safely.

Ellwood City police said four firefighters were treated at Ellwood City Hospital for minor chemical burns and released. All four later returned to the fire scene.

Although nearby residents — including those living immediately downwind in Ellport, Franklin Township’s Frisco neighborhood and Perry Township’s Wurtemburg neighborhood — were advised to take precautions, no evacuations were ordered, Melcer said.

“It’s a hazardous material, but the EPA does not list it as an extremely hazardous material,” Melcer said.

More than 20 emergency response agencies from Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties responded to the fire report, which was called to county emergency dispatch just before 9 a.m. Sunday. Ellwood City police said about 10:30 a.m. that the fire had been contained within the west building, and by 2 p.m. the fire was deemed under control.

Melcer said that firefighters were taking a “defensive” posture in battling much of the fire, because of the presence of lithium in the building. Lithium is a reactive metal that combusts when it comes into contact with water, although not as violently as a metal such as magnesium would.

For that reason, Melcer said the fire companies were using water to extinguish plastic and other petroleum-based materials in the building. Once fire crews had the fire under control, they let it continue to burn down, since using water on the main area was not an option.

Lithium, he said, made up a relatively small amount of substances in the building and that most of the black smoke seen rising from the INMETCO complex was caused by burning plastics.

Personnel from a Pittsburgh television station at the fire said smoke could be seen from as far away as Pittsburgh International Airport, nearly 30 miles away by air. Firefighters had to deal with explosions, which Melcer attributed to pressurized containers in the building that became heated as a result of the fire.

Melcer said he could not confirm a cause for the fire, but said personnel from the state Department of Environmental Protection were expected to arrive early Sunday afternoon to examine the scene.

Fire departments responding included Ellwood City, Wampum, Wurtemburg-Perry Township, South New Castle and Shenango, Wayne and Taylor townships in Lawrence County; Franklin Township Frisco, North Sewickley Township, Koppel, Beaver Falls and New Brighton in Beaver County; and Zelienople, Harmony, Evans City and Portersville-Muddy Creek in Butler County.

Ellwood City police, personnel from Ellwood City Hospital and Lawrence County Emergency Management also responded to the fire call.

Source: Popular Mechanics