An incorrectly-disposed-of lithium ion battery is to blame for an afternoon fire at ecomaine on Wednesday.  At approximately 3:45 p.m., ecomaine’s Recycling operations staff noticed a smoldering section of material that quickly filled the area with smoke, and alerted the Portland Fire Department.

The fire was contained quickly, though smoke persisted in the plant for a number of hours, as crews separated flammable cardboard and paper from the affected area.  Lithium ion and other rechargeable batteries pose significant risks to recycling facilities across the country, including some that have been lost entirely to fire.

“We are exceptionally glad that no one was hurt, and that we are able to re-open today,” said ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche.  “However, we need to impress upon Maine residents that rechargeable batteries must not go into the normal waste stream.  This event reminds us that failing to follow disposal directions can have serious, real-life consequences, and can put livelihoods and property at risk.”

The fire appears to have begun when a lithium ion battery from a drill or another tool was broken and volatile chemicals inside interacted and ignited nearby materials. “Rechargeable batteries are a great technology,” said ecomaine Communications Manager Matt Grondin.  “But they are becoming much more prevalent all the time, and they can be dangerous if they are put into everyday recycling or trash.”

ecomaine officials urge residents to treat rechargeable batteries as the hazard that they can be, and to return them to locations that can dispose of them properly.  “Mainers can visit or to find a location near them — a hardware store, a transfer station or another facility — where they can safely drop off rechargeable batteries,” added Grondin.  “This way, they won’t endanger our staff, our plant, or Maine’s recyclables.”

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