Plans to change the permitting rules for sites handling combustible material such as wood waste and refuse derived fuels have been outlined by the Environment Agency, in a bid to quell the ‘unacceptable’ number of fires involving waste.
The Agency action comes as some in the waste sector and government feel that control of illegal operations has been lost by the Agency, although with extra funding it is now trying to take a tougher enforcement line.
The revised rules are now out for consultation. They reflect technical guidance put together in conjunction with the waste sector and the Waste Industry Safety & Health Forum (WISH) (see letsrecycle.com story).
However, there is disagreement within the sector over to the extent of what is being proposed and whether there has been broad enough agreement ahead of the launch of the consultation.
Among the major rule changes included in the consultation is a new requirement to ensure that no combustible waste is stored on a site for longer than three months, in order to reduce the risk of materials catching fire when they are stored outside.
Site operators may also to be asked to draw up ‘Fire Prevention Plans’ – to be approved by the Agency – to ensure that steps are in place to reduce the risk of fires breaking out at waste facilities.
The Agency is asking for views on whether the revised set of rules correctly identify the risks associated with fires at waste management sites, and whether the new rules sufficiently deal with these risks. Amendments have been proposed for 21 existing generic risk assessments and standard rules for sites storing or treating combustible waste.
The standard rules cover the activities that site operators must carry out to mitigate the risk of environmental harm that their activities may cause. If their operations are in line with these standard rules they can apply for a standard permit from the Agency, otherwise they are required to apply for a bespoke permit, which can take longer to issue.
"We need to revise these rule sets because we continue to experience an unacceptable number of fires at permitted sites storing or treating waste."
In consultation documents outlining the changes the Agency states: “We need to revise these rule sets because we continue to experience an unacceptable number of fires at permitted sites storing or treating waste. These revisions aim to both reduce the risk of fires starting and to limit the damage to the environment and to human health when fires do occur.”
On Fire Prevention Plans, the Agency has stated that these must include details of the total amount of waste that will be stored at the site, the maximum time it is likely to be stored, the method of storage and the volume of waste in each pile.
Details must also be given on the maximum size of any waste pile stack, if fire walls are used in place of fire breaks, the steps put in place to prevent the risk of a fire and steps put in place to extinguish a fire if it starts.
There are also specific proposals for sites handling waste wood, including plans to prohibit activities from taking place within 200 metres of a workplace or residential dwelling. Waste wood sites operating under standard permits will also be required to handle no more than 5,000 tonnes of material per year on a single site.
A consultation on the revisions is open on the Environment Agency’s website until March 6.
Responding to the proposals, the Environmental Services Association stated that it was disappointed the proposals did not bear closer resemblance to the WISH technical guidance.
Stephen Freeland, ESA policy advisor, commented: “Though not entirely unexpected, ESA is disappointed that the consultation proposals make no reference to the WISH fires guidance, which was published last year with the backing of industry, regulators and insurers.
“We believe that there needs to be a requirement for fire plans to be prepared in line with Agency guidance (TGN07) or “other appropriate industry guidance” and will press the Agency for this to be included. Crucially, such plans should be agreed with the local fire service.”