Battery maker submits fire plan

Stonington - Yardney Technical Products has submitted a plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection that is designed to better inform firefighters and emergency personnel about the hazards they face when responding to possible future battery explosions or fires at the Pawcatuck plant.

The DEP has just begun its review of the plan, which was prompted by a consent order the agency issued to Yardney this spring.

The order was the result of complaints by Pawcatuck fire department officials after a pickup-truck-sized battery exploded at the Mechanic Street plant in September of 2008, forcing the evacuation of the surrounding neighborhood and Pawcatuck Middle and West Broad Street schools.

After that event, fire department and town officials were critical of Yardney, saying the company provided little information at the time about how best to handle the chemical reaction and explosion and what dangers it posed. The fire department then pressed state and federal environmental officials to take action against the company. The result of that effort was the DEP consent order.

On Thursday, Pawcatuck fire officials, including Chief Tom Long and Fire Marshal Kevin Burns, met with Yardney officials who briefed them on the improvements the company had already made. Long said he has not yet received a copy of the plan the company has submitted to the DEP.

Long said he was glad to see that the company has already done a tremendous amount of work to improve the situation.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," he said. "It will make it safer for employees and residents."

Burns said the company has been doing a lot of research into the result of the different chemical reactions that could occur during an explosion or fire and what health and safety concerns they pose to the public.

Yardney makes lithium-ion batteries for the military and aerospace industries. The company recently helped design and make a battery that powered the Phoenix spacecraft that landed on Mars in 2008.

Robert Girard, the assistant director of the DEP's Air Enforcement Bureau, said the lack of information also impacted the ability of DEP emergency response personnel to properly address a problem at the plant or decide if their presence was needed. He said the DEP wanted Yardney to come up with a plan because the problems were becoming routine occurrences.

"We want them to do a study and put a plan in place for each battery being tested so if something goes wrong we know exactly what is being emitted," he said.

He said the DEP also suggested the company look at moving testing to a separate building.

Girard said Yardney agreed a plan was needed.

"They recognized they had to do more," he said.

Yardney President Vince Yevoli could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The consent order cited Yardney for violating state air pollution regulations and pointed out that in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008 there had been battery failures at the plant that required emergency responses.

The mitigation plan specified in the order required Yardney to identify all predictable malfunctions or emergency releases that may occur during battery testing, characterize the type and quantity of the pollution emitted during each malfunction and provide specific procedures for repairing the malfunction and containing the release.

It also requires the company to provide an analysis of the impact of each type of containment method and the quantity of emissions that would occur with each.

The company also has to detail the testing practices to be implemented to prevent any air pollution release. The order further requires the implementation of a training program so employees involved in testing are aware of the plan's requirements.

The order states that the DEP can inspect the plant at any time without notice. Girard did not have details about when the company has to implement all the measures.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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