Blast Shuts Down PA Plastics Maker

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 @ 10:10 AM gHale

An explosion in a Forks Township, PA, manufacturer’s waste silo Friday night forced firefighters to battle a blaze for seven hours, officials said.

The blast occurred at 7:15 p.m. at Ecopax, a manufacturer that makes foam and plastic food containers.

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The damage ended up contained to the 36-foot silo, which measures 12 feet in diameter. Exopax uses it to store polystyrene waste, said Bill Carver, chief of the Forks Township Fire Department.

The facility, which opened three years ago, shut down because of the fire.

“They had to shut down to put that silo back in service,” Carver said. “Their indication was it would be a week or so before they could do production again.”

The fire department was at the scene until about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, he said.

The bulk of the time was spent assessing the situation and gaining safety assurances before treating the silo, Carver said, adding there was never any threat outside of the property.

“We didn’t want to use water initially because the product can cause runoff that gives off hazardous materials,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure that we did it correctly because it was in a silo and nobody had a lot of experience with that type of a silo. Much of it was getting the engineers to talk to each other and make sure we did what we needed to do the right way.”

The Lehigh County Hazardous Materials team was called to contain the runoff before the fire department doused the tower. The state Department of Environmental Protection and an engine from East Lawn Fire Co. also assisted, Carver said.

The silo is the only one used to store the plastic waste at Ecopax.

“Three others silos store different dry materials but none of them were in danger, none of them were compromised,” Carver said.

Authorities suspect a static spark inside the silo triggered the blast, which was heard at nearby residences.

“We may never know for sure,” Carver said. “The material is susceptible to spark and sometimes that happens.”

This was the second fire at Ecopax this year. In May, a commercial roll of polystyrene caught fire inside the building but the sprinkler system kept it from spreading.