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Lithium ion battery sparks fire at ecomaine facility, prompting reminder to dispose of them properly

The fire appears to have begun when a lithium ion battery from a drill or other tool was broken and volatile chemicals inside interacted, igniting nearby materials.
Credit: NCM

PORTLAND, Maine — An incorrectly-disposed-of lithium ion battery is to blame for an afternoon fire at the ecomaine recycling facility in Portland on Wednesday, according to ecomaine communications manager Matt Grondin. 

Around 3:45 p.m., ecomaine’s recycling operations staff alerted the Portland Fire Department after noticing a smoldering section of material that quickly filled the area with smoke.

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. 

According to Grondin, 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,” ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche said. “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.”

Grondin said the fire appears to have begun when a lithium ion battery from a drill or other tool was broken and volatile chemicals inside interacted, igniting nearby materials.

“Rechargeable batteries are a great technology,” Grondin said. “But they are becoming much more prevalent all the time, and they can be dangerous if they are put into everyday recycling or trash.”

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 ecomaine.org or Call2Recycle.org to find a location near them — a hardware store, a transfer station or another facility — where they can safely drop off rechargeable batteries,” Grondin added. “This way, they won’t endanger our staff, our plant, or Maine’s recyclables.”