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Tyre fire environmental management

EPA Environmental officers are overseeing the clean up of waste from a fire at a tyre recycling facility in Longford earlier this year.

The EPA played a pivotal role in the coordinated response to the fire in mid February which destroyed thousands of tyres and was alight for almost three days. Senior Environmental Officer Robert Trimble was on the scene early, liaising with the Tasmania Fire Service and advising on the containment of firewater run-off, waste management issues and collecting water samples to ascertain what, if any impact the fire was having on the adjacent South Esk River.

"The fire was still burning with large plumes of acrid smoke," Robert said. "My role was to provide advice to the Tasmania Fire Service, as they were the incident controllers, to ensure all environmental considerations were being managed. Staff from the Northern Midlands Council had also acted quickly to bund nearby drainage channels to prevent contaminated run-off water from reaching the South Esk River."

Robert was joined by John Innis, EPA Senior Scientific Officer and later by Alex Bell, EPA Technical Officer, who delivered the EPA’s mobile air monitoring station to the scene. John and Alex monitored air quality in the township in real time during the course of the fire, and provided the incident management team with valuable information with which to consider the nature of health advice to residents. Meteorological forecasting by EPA Air Modeller Elizabeth Chelkowska proved valuable for indicating likely wind direction and smoke dispersal during the incident.

"The use of the mobile monitoring station enabled the EPA to provide advice on the immediate implications of smoke movements and patterns," said John Innis. "We were able to liaise closely with other agencies such as Public and Environmental Health to provide up-to-date air monitoring information."

John also believes it was fortunate that the prevailing wind during the incident was north-westerly. "This generally confined the smoke to the eastern edge of town, to the east of Wellington Street. Had the wind been more northerly, or from the north-east, the impact on Longford would have been much greater. As it was the area near the caravan park and nearby streets were often in the plume, but most of the town was in clearer air."

Senior Environmental Officer John Gorrie attended the incident and provided advice on waste and firewater disposal options. John and Robert also worked with the Tasmania Fire Service to reduce the quantity of run-off water. One method devised by the Fire Service involved digging a large hole on the fire ground, filling it with run-off water and using excavators to place the burning tyres into it. This minimised the amount of contaminated water run-off, as well as the offsite impacts of solid material. John also developed contingency plans in the event of possible firewater overflow into the nearby river.

"The overall response to the incident was a great example of inter-agency cooperation. EPA officers worked as part of a team with Tasmania Fire Service, Northern Midlands Council, State Emergency Service, Police and Public & Environmental Health Service to minimise impacts on residents and the environment," John Gorrie said.

The crucial role of the Analytical Services Tasmania (AST) laboratory cannot be overlooked, analysing samples of firewater collected from the scene during the fire. The quick turnaround of these samples provided the Director EPA with critical early information to consider options for managing the large quantities of water that were collected.

When the blaze was extinguished, the EPA’s waste management team provided assistance in relation to waste management issues relating to disposal of the fire fighting water and solid waste. Following analysis of the fire fighting water a range of options were considered and it was deemed that disposal of the firewater to the South Esk River under controlled conditions was the appropriate action. The Director, EPA specified a maximum pumping rate to ensure that drinking and environmental water quality was not compromised. Samples of water from the South Esk River were collected during the pumping operation. The results indicated that water quality was not compromised.

It is estimated that a total of 1500 cubic metres of solid needs to be managed. This includes soil from 6 Union Street, burnt tyre residue and sediments from drains that contained fire fighting water. The materials are predominantly contaminated with hydrocarbons and are therefore better suited to remediation at a secure storage site rather than land filling. The Director, EPA has approved a site between Longford and Carrick that is remote from residences for the remediation of this material. The approval contains conditions to ensure that potential impacts on the public and environment are managed appropriately.