Battery recycling center catches fire, surrounding area evacuated
by Amanda Stegall
Apr 17, 2011 | 5425 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The by-products and the off-gassing of batteries turned the structure fire at Metal Conversions Technologies into a HAZMAT response. Nearby residents were initially evacuated from their homes. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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A structure fire at Metal Conversions Technologies, a rechargeable battery recycling center at 1 Porter Street in Cartersville, broke out around 3 p.m. Saturday causing several explosions and alarming the community.

Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes and as of press time a decision on allowing the return had not been made.

Large plumes of smoke were seen as far away as the Shaw plant on U.S. 41, according to sources. "I heard it from Main Street and could see the smoke all the way over towards where I live in Emerson," Issac Long, a nearby witness stated. "At first I thought it was thunder."

Cartersville City Fire Chief Scott Carter stated that a battery fire began near the exterior of the building and quickly spread to the interior. "That quickly turned into a HAZMAT response for us just because of the by-products and the off-gassing of the batteries."

The Hazardous Material response team combines units from the city of Cartersville and Bartow County fire departments who respond to particular situations when chemicals and other hazardous materials are involved.

"We did an immediate evacuation here within the area initially because, quite frankly, we did not know what we were dealing with at the onset of the incident," Carter said. A four-block evacuation radius around the area was initiated as crews arrived on scene. Some of the residents were relocated to a safe distance while others required no further assistance and turned to family and church family members. Less than 100 people are estimated to have been evacuated.

"We've done a complete chemical analysis, so we do know now what we are dealing with," Carter said, explaining that the air and water qualities are safe. "We also have EPD and EPA en route ... We're watching the amount of water that we've used to mitigate this fire because one of the products does react to water and has created a lot of our complications that we've had today."

Main chemicals in the batteries are lithium and nickel-cadmium. Lithium, a highly flammable and reactant element, has been named as the culprit for the explosion. Contact with the chemical can typically initially irritate the nose and throat, explaining complaints of difficulty breathing.

According to a press release from Cartersville Medical Center, eight citizens checked into the emergency room complaining of respiratory problems. The hospital stated that no serious issues were discovered and the evaluations were mainly precautionary. All of the patients were released except one, who remains for observation. CMC stated that all entrances were closed to general traffic, including visitors, in compliance with emergency procedures. Discharges and anyone wishing to leave the building were not affected.

"We've been working closely with CMC since the beginning to make sure they had all of the information of what chemicals we were dealing with and so far no firefighters have been injured and no serious injuries at this time," Carter said.

Due to the reactions to water, Carter explained that a controlled burn must be conducted to fully extinguish flames. Along with the Cartersville and Bartow County fire departments, Bartow County Sheriff's Office deputies and Cartersville Police Department officers were on site to control traffic and block roads. EMS and EMA personnel were also nearby in case the situation escalated. EPA and EPD were also on site from both the state and federal levels to assess the environmental impact and chemical analysis.

At 9:30 p.m.,barricades to the scene were being removed and the evacuation area was being reduced.

The company's website states that the business, established in 2003, is a family owned and a operated facility that "utilizes the metal components recycled from the batteries in its melt operations to manufacture its master alloy." Further information about the company can be found at www.metalconversion.com.

-- Reporter Shaka S. Lias contributed to this story.