New Brunswick

Battery explodes on landfill worker

A close call for a landfill worker has the Fredericton Solid Waste organization reminding people that increasingly popular lithium batteries don't go in the regular trash.

Fredericton Solid Waste urges people to keep their old lithium batteries out of the trash stream

Lithium batteries are dramatically increasing in popularity for household, commercial and industrial products, including this power drill. (CBC)

It probably didn't have enough juice left to power someone's drill or cellphone anymore, but a used lithium battery still contained enough energy to explode all over a worker at the landfill in Fredericton.

"He was covered in black gunk," said Brad Janes, manager of education and public relations at Fredericton Solid Waste.

"We're very fortunate that he wasn't injured. ... It could have been a lot worse."

Lithium batteries are used in everything from cellphones and laptops to power tools and recreational vehicles.

"They're increasing dramatically," Janes said.

"Residential is not as big a concern as commercial-industrial," he said, pointing to video lottery terminals as a recent example.

"So, we're getting rows of those brought in as part of a dump-off package."

Landfill workers sometimes have to put out fires started by batteries as they are using heavy equipment to compress bales of trash. (Fredericton Solid Waste)

Janes said landfill workers have been finding more of the rechargeable batteries in the regular trash piles, where they pose a serious safety hazard.

"When we're crushing garbage in the landfill it's about pressure. It's pushing down on it and making it erupt, if you will. Same as when we bale our garbage or recycling … it's compressed, and pressure produces explosions or fires."

Janes said the worker had spotted one such fire and hopped out of his machine to spray it with an extinguisher, then rake the smouldering mess away from the rest of the garbage.

"Turns out it was a battery or batteries and it actually — what he was lifting out — exploded and coated him."

Luckily, it didn't hit his face, Janes said.

Lithium batteries like this one can pose a safety risk if they are thrown out in the regular garbage. (CBC)

Janes wants people to remember there are other people handling their trash beyond the curbside.

"It just seems like, 'It's out of my house, it's at the end of the driveway and it's gone. I'm not involved with it anymore,'" he said.

There are numerous places where a person can safely get rid of old batteries in the Fredericton area, he said.

Battery recycling boxes from Call2Recycle are available at a variety of locations in Fredericton, including some businesses. (Submitted by Call2Recycle)

Cardboard containers can be found at 25 places that belong to the Call2Recycle program, including many stores, as well as the Environment and Local Government office on McGloin Street, on the north side of the city.

And every Saturday and Wednesday, people can drop off their household hazardous waste at the landfill.

Janes said there are a number of businesses that handle that kind of hazardous waste for business and industry.