A smoldering lithium battery was found in the recycling at an Otter Tail County Transfer Station last Friday. Employee Scott Mounts observed smoke coming from the single sort recycling bunker at the Fergus Falls Transfer Station, but was able to alert other staff and contain the hazard before a fire broke out.
Lithium batteries are found in many devices and electronics, from cell phones and laptops to greeting cards and vape pens. Lithium batteries are designed to be small and lightweight, but that also makes them vulnerable to damage, such as being punctured or crushed. Lithium reacts with oxygen and water, and can combust as a result of damage to a battery. Heavy equipment at recycling and waste facilities can potentially crush or damage unseen batteries, creating a fire hazard.
“These days, with all the tablets, smartphones, and other rechargeable devices we are using, lithium batteries have likely become the number one source for fires at transfer stations and landfills. Most of us remember the Samsung Note 7 that was causing fires a few years ago because of the battery – what happened at our transfer station is really no different. Any device with a rechargeable battery – removable or not – should not be thrown in the garbage or recycling and needs to be specially handled.” – Zach Fjestad, Otter Tail County Assistant Solid Waste Director
All rechargeable batteries, including all lithium batteries, should be disposed of properly at the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Facility in Fergus Falls, or a Household Hazardous Waste Mobile Collection.
The HHW Program accepts a wide variety of hazardous chemicals and products from homes for safe disposal. Paint, cleaners, solvents, used oil and oil filters, lawn and garden chemicals, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, old gasoline, and more are accepted free of charge from households. These products pose risks to human health and the environment if disposed of incorrectly. Many items are recycled through special programs and products in useable condition are offered back to the public for free at the HHW Facility.