Radioactive tools are often used inside industrial facilities, where humans cannot go. For instance, Portland industrial demolition workers might find a radioactive gauge inside a blast furnace. If years of grime obscure warning signs, radioactive tools may be demolished improperly, and nearby people may be exposed to radioactive materials.
Scrap metal may be pulled from automobiles, factories, appliances, and industrial machinery. These sources often contain oil, paint, and other combustible substances. About half of today’s cars, for instance, are made up of flammable petroleum-based materials. Sparks are possible during all stages of scrap metal recycling, including sorting, transportation, and shredding. Moreover, as scrap recycling is stored in piles, sometimes as tall as 40 feet high, the pressure of higher materials creates the possibility of spontaneous ignition. Because scrap materials are often stored entire acres away from processing facilities, management may not notice fires until they are enormous, and very difficult to extinguish. Finally, even scrap dust is dangerous, and can catch on fire.
The threat of fire is quite real for modern scrap metal facilities. In just three years there have been 23 fires in scrap metal facilities in just one state, California.
Contamination & Pollution
If a fire does occur, pollutants can quickly spread to nearby eco systems via water and smoke. To keep the proper permitting scrap metal recyclers must clean up the negative ecological impacts of fires, unless they have special pollution exclusions.
Workers may also be subjected to air-borne contaminants such as lead and asbestos dust.
To protect their workers and others against these hazards, recycling facilities should take the following precautions:
- Maintain a 50 feet radius around scrap piles.
- Check electrical installations regularly for heat buildup, using thermographic or infrared testing.
- Maintain effective ventilation and vacuum systems to minimize ignitable scrap dust.
- Ensure that workers are educated in how to use all tools, particularly gas-cutting torches.
- Provide regular, thorough worker training on the hazards of contaminants such as lead, radioactive materials, and asbestos.
- Limit size of scrap piles to 20 feet in height and 6,000 feet in area.
- Keep a couple of loaders or diggers on hand to assist with firefighting if needed.
- Prohibit smoking in fire danger zones.
- Avoid using portable heaters in the winter, as they can start fires.
- Invite the local fire department to visit and become familiar with your facility.
- Make sure you have access to ample amounts of water for firefighting efforts.
Safe scrap metal demolition is not only better for the environment and workers—it’s also better for the bottom line, as less money is wasted fighting fires and remediating ecosystems.
[photo by: Montgomery Cty Division of Solid Waste Services on Flickr, via CC License]