An MP has raised a question in Parliament over the handling of a carpet recycling fire that is still blazing nearly three months since it started.
Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick upon Tweed, asked Defra ministers about Environment Agency (EA) regulation of carpet storage at Swarland Brickworks at Thrunton.
Recyclers Blackwater North East used their Brickworks site to recycle carpets, but a fire started on 3 September with around 3,000 tonnes of carpet on site. These were mostly shredded in large bales.
Resource minister Dan Rogerson replied that the company had made an application to the EA to gain end-of-waste status for combustible briquettes produced from a blend of waste carpet and wood.
He added that the secretary of state had advised the appropriate process was for the operator to work with the EA.
In a statement to MRW, Beith said: “There are wider concerns about the operation of the carpet recycling business from this site.
“I’m looking into the wider issue of recycling processes and how these are monitored, particularly for products which have little or no clear end use.”
Dr Clare Mills, senior parliamentary assistant to Beith, told MRW that around 20 houses are still being affected by smoke from the fire.
She added that the carpet was spread out over a larger area than was actually rented out to Blackwater.
She said the local village has a private water supply and the carpets were placed near the aquifer. The carpet should have been placed on a concrete base, but it was put on porous land. This meant that large amounts of water could not be used to put out the fire.
The outlet to the drains on site was bunded (surrounded by retaining walls) to contain water run-off and prevent contamination of a nearby lake.
However this meant attempts to put out the fire resulted in a film forming on top while the blaze continued underneath.
The team managing the fire, comprising of Northumberland County Council, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, Public Health England and the EA, said: “The incident is complex, and options for aggressively tackling the fire with large volumes of water are limited due to the underlying geology of the site and the risks to water sources, particularly to the drinking water supply of the surrounding houses at Thrunton.
“We understand that the long-term nature of this situation is distressing for the residents and is having an impact on their day to day quality of life, and we are taking actions to mitigate the adverse effects as far as is possible.”
Blackwater North East declined to comment.
EA’s Technical Guidance Note ‘Reducing fire risk at sites storing combustible materials’
EA Fire guidance, published in October, said that to contain and mitigate the effects of a fire “you must use an impermeable/fire resistant surface for the base of the (waste) stack.”
The site plan must also show “any watercourse, borehole, or well located within or near the site.”
In terms of layout the guidance said: “Once you’ve identified the separation distance required between stacks and taken account of the access requirement for local fire and rescue service vehicles and the location of heat sources, buildings, and other vulnerable areas on site, you can plan the storage arrangements.”