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Penn Waste has seen a rash of truck fires in York County. The company blames COVID-19

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Penn Waste and local officials say a spike in improperly discarded hazardous waste in York County has caused numerous fires in its trucks and at its facilities in recent months.

Since March, there have been six truck fires and one fire at its recycling plant, which was triggered by a propane tank explosion on July 17. Penn Waste typically sees about one truck fire a year, said Amanda Moley, a spokesperson for Penn Waste.

"We have 75 people that work in our recycling facility, so this is really putting their safety at risk," Moley said. "People might think it's not a big deal, but it has serious consequences." 

This cardboard baling unit was the site of a recent explosion and fire when an improperly disposed propane tank was crushed in the machine.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

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While propane tanks are the most dangerous hazardous waste being improperly discarded, pool cleaning chemicals, rechargeable batteries and live ammunition also have caused problems for Penn Waste, Moley said.

A bulldozer moves piles of recyclables toward a conveyor, which starts the sorting process at Penn Waste recycling center Friday, March 25, 2016.

The company linked the increase in improper hazardous waste disposal to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions, such as stay-at-home orders, that began in mid-March.

"People at home are doing mass clean-outs, getting rid of stuff," Moley said. "We've seen a major increase in the volume of disposal in general."

The hazardous waste issue isn't exclusive to one area of York County, and emails have been sent to every municipality as a reminder of how to properly dispose of harmful waste. 

West Manchester Township Manager Kelly Kelch said although his township hasn't been responsible for any of the recent fires created by hazardous waste, he put out an alert to residents via the township website after receiving the email from Penn Waste.

"Hazardous waste can explode when they're put in the garbage trucks," he said. "(Workers) can't see what's in the bag when they throw it in the truck."

Penn Waste isn't able to penalize customers, though, since there are few ways to trace who disposed of the hazardous waste. 

While propane tanks can be harmful once they explode, pool chemicals have also been a major cause for truck fires. 

"People don't treat them as combustible, but when mixed with other liquids it can generate heat and spark fires," Moley said.

She said the best way residents can make sure they are disposing of waste properly is to check with the York County Solid Waste Authority and participate in its annual household hazardous waste program.

Its next program is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 3 at the authority’s ash recycling and processing facility, located at 2650 Blackbridge Road.

Rechargeable batteries can be dropped off at most Lowe's stores, and live ammunition is best taken to a resident's local armory, Moley added.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.