Landfill Power Plant Locked after Blast

Monday, July 22, 2013 @ 11:07 AM gHale

An explosion started a small fire last Tuesday at a power plant at the Rhode Island Central Landfill, the second safety issue there in a week.

While the safety systems worked as they should, the town padlocked the facility with the mayor saying its owners had defied an order to get the OK before resuming operations.

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It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion at the Broadrock Renewables plant, which uses methane gas generated by the landfill and converts it to power. Broadrock issued a statement saying an employee spotted a brush fire near pipework around 4 a.m. and called the fire department, which put it out. Broadrock spokesman Bill Fischer said the cause was under investigation, and the company would conduct its own review of what happened.

No one suffered an injury, but Mayor Joseph Polisena said they were lucky no one died in the incident. Polisena said he has an obligation to shut it down if the public is in danger.

“They were instructed by the building official to call him first before they opened. They didn’t,” Polisena said. “They’re not being a good, safe corporate citizen, and I won’t tolerate it.”

Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., which operates the landfill, said he did not know details about what happened, other than that there was an explosion.

Town officials ordered Broadrock last week to shut down a plant that opened several months ago after an uptick in residents’ complaints about the smells, and a building inspector went to the plant and found pipes in disrepair. Polisena said the inspector saw shoddy work there, including pipes held together with broomsticks, duct tape and rope.

Tuesday’s explosion happened at Broadrock’s old plant. Polisena and O’Connell said it was their understanding that the old plant had previously stopped operating.

Fischer said the old plant was never decommissioned and a letter from Polisena last week authorized Broadrock to reactivate the older facility. The letter does authorize the reactivation of the old plant, but it also orders Broadrock to notify the city of its plans.

Fischer said the plant’s safety systems worked Tuesday to promptly shut down the equipment to keep the fire from spreading, and personnel regularly conduct safety inspections.

“Broadrock has a strong track record of safety and have a number of systems and protocols in place to prevent and respond to situations of this nature,” he said.

While the plant remains closed, methane burns off via flares in the ground, Polisena and O’Connell said. Normally, the plant would convert the methane to electricity and feed it to the grid, O’Connell said.

The town sued Broadrock and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. in 2011 because of terrible odors from the landfill that permeated the town and as far as 20 miles away. The lawsuit, filed in state court, is pending, Polisena said.

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