Fires are breaking out at the Ames Resource Recovery System more than ever, with an average of one fire or explosion per week.
“Most of the time there is no damage. It’s just safety,” said Lorrie Hanson, secretary and educator.
The most recent fire that broke out in the facility was caused by fireworks that weren’t disposed of correctly.
“We’re used to it," Hanson said. "It’s just habit now. Our employees know what to do.”
The last significant fire to spread out of hand happened more than 10 years ago and stopped production for four days.
“It’s the biggest thing we worry about, something happening when nobody is here to see it,” said Mark Peebler, assistant superintendent.
Items that can cause these fires to break out in processing facilities are household hazardous waste, fireworks and almost anything with rechargeable batteries, which includes the rechargeable batteries themselves.
When these items go through the shredders at the plant, they can explode. Most are household objects such as lithium batteries, electronic toothbrushes, laptops, hand mixers and among many other items.
Two concerns when fires do break out are smoke inhalation and the chance of the fire spreading beyond what the fire system and employees can handle.
More often than not the employees can use the safety systems in place to put out the fires before they can spread. However the facility may still fill with smoke and can become hazardous to workers and stop production.
Various business in Ames such as Best Buy, Staples, Interstate Battery and the Ames Resource Recovery System will accept these items and dispose of them correctly so that kind of situations don’t happen.
“We accept these items free of charge,” Peebler said.
Oftentimes, no one can be held accountable for throwing away potentially dangerous items as the facility receives over 200 tons of garbage each day from all around Story County.
Hanson said the best thing the facility can do is continue to educate citizens on the danger of throwing away these kinds of items.
The Resource Recovery System sees more fires after the Fourth of July and after New Year’s Eve, two popular holidays for fireworks. As the holidays come closer, the facility would like citizens to be extra cautious on what they are throwing away.
When a battery has gone through the Resource Recovery process it can be held in the storage bin for up to two days before it might ignite a fire. This includes those batteries that no longer power devices, as they still have power in them.
“Any battery that no longer powers a device, still has 80 percent of its power," Peebler said. "It’s just not enough to power the device.”
“It doesn’t matter how small the battery,” Hanson said.
Information about what can and cannot be thrown away can be found on the City of Ames Resource Recovery System website and citizens with any questions can call for more details.