KSL INVESTIGATES

How Throwing Away Your Old Batteries Can Put People in Danger 

Jun 22, 2021, 6:17 PM | Updated: 9:11 pm

FAIRFIELD, Utah — Poorly stored or thrown away batteries can lead to house fires, but they can lead to much bigger fires, too. Battery fires have become expensive and dangerous for the sanitation industry. 

Managing our garbage all day long keeps the workers at Intermountain Regional Landfill busy. But every couple of weeks, they must stop their work to fight fires.

One fire a couple of years ago shut them down for more than a day. The landfill’s operators believe batteries hidden in household garbage were compacted, which allowed them to heat up enough to ignite the blaze. 

Landfills in the United States get burned with about 8,300 fires every year, according to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration. 

The issue has become so costly for the Intermountain Regional Landfill that the bosses invested in infrared cameras, which alert them anytime there is a higher-than-normal temperature reading. 

LiveView Technologies manufactured those infrared camera units. Its vice president of product, Brandon Woolf, said landfills, with all those battery fires, are among their biggest clients. 

“We actually got tipped off a few years ago to some of the need from the industry and saw that nobody was filling that gap,” said Woolf. 

Getting a fast start on fires is better than having them grow huge, but not as good as not having to fight them at all, which is why the message to anyone who throws their batteries away in the trash is to separate them for recycling instead. 

Ironically, recycling is exactly what Jane Jensen was trying to do when a fire ignited in her car, which was parked in the garage of her Taylorsville home. A couple of 9-volt batteries in a sack she put on her back seat sparked the fire.

With the help of Unified Fire Authority’s Patrick Costin, the KSL Investigators showed how crossing a 9-volt battery’s terminals with a piece of metal can cause the battery to get hot enough to start a fire. 

If you are holding onto batteries before your trip to an e-waste recycler, Costin said it is important to store 9-volt batteries, even dead ones, the right way. Cover the terminals with tape. 

“That’s going to keep these contacts from touching metal objects, arching, creating sparks, anything like that,” explained Costin. 

The Salt Lake Valley Landfill accepts batteries for recycling at its Household Hazardous Waste drop off, as does Weber County,  the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District and the North Pointe Solid Waste Special Service District

Landfill fires can be incredibly dangerous and really tough to fight. They can actually burn underground. In fact, there is a landfill fire burning right now in Australia that has been going for a year-and-a-half. 

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How Throwing Away Your Old Batteries Can Put People in Danger