Hazardous Waste Fire Erupts in Braintree, MA

(Image via @MassFireChaser on Twitter)

Staff Writer: Sydney Cayer

Email: scayer@umassd.edu

Late in the evening on Thursday, February 16th, a fire broke out at Clean Harbors Waste Treatment Facility in Braintree, Massachusetts. Eight trailers caught on fire, all full of combustible materials. 

Clean Harbor officials say that the trailers self-reacted. 

It took three hours for the fire to get under control. 

Weymouth, Braintree, Quincy, Randolph, and Holbrook fire departments responded to the incident, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Fire Services, and the state Department of Environmental Protection

According to the company’s website

“This facility serves the area as the largest Treatment storage and disposal facility in New England. The facility receives, stores, treats and transfers a variety of waste streams. The treatment methods utilized at this facility reduce the volume and/or toxicity of waste materials or make it suitable for further Treatment reuse, or disposal.” 

A member of the Department of Environmental Protection stated that “operations at Clean Harbors have stopped and can’t resume until authorities confirm that the facility is in compliance with specific regulatory requirements.”

Weymouth Town Councilor Pascale Burga said there was a spike in toxins in the air from 10 PM until 1 AM, which later dissipated.

Statement from Clean Harbors (Image via facebook.com)

Citizens of Braintree are in an uproar that they were not notified of any fire. The only notification was from Facebook, where members of the community were instructed to close their windows and stay inside on Thursday night.

There was not a robocall notifying residents of the incident.

“It’s unacceptable.” said one resident.

Neighboring towns that are in close proximity were not notified of the fire. 

Weymouth mayor Robert Hedlund did not hear about the incident until the following day.  

(Image via patriotledger.com)

The materials burned included, but were not limited to:

– Methyl tetrahydrofuran: a colorless liquid with an ether-like odor. It is corrosive, flammable, and an irritant.  

– Aliphatic hydrocarbons: a flammable compound used for fuel, lubricants, and raw materials that produce fibers, plastic, rubbers, solvents, and more.

– Waste gasoline (benzene): a colorless or yellow liquid at room temperature. It is highly flammable. It is heavier than air, sinking into low-lying areas and sitting on top of the water. 

– Xylene: a clear, sweet-smelling, extremely flammable, and toxic liquid. 

– Methanol: a toxic alcohol that is used as a solvent, pesticide, and fuel source.

– Toluene: a clear liquid that becomes a vapor when in room-temperature air. It can be utilized in paints. 

Fires like this are extremely dangerous to not only the townsfolk but the environment. 

According to US Environmental Protection Agency, if exposed to these hazardous materials, a person can experience difficulty breathing, headaches, and nausea.

More severe effects include:

– Behavioral Abnormalities

– Cancer

– Genetic Mutations

– Physiological Malfunctions (i.e., reproductive impairment, kidney failure)

– Physical Deformations

– Birth Defects

Environmental repercussions include, but are not limited to:

– Killing organisms in local lakes and rivers.

– Destroying animal populations by causing major reproductive issues.

– Destroying plants by causing major reproductive issues.

– Disruptions in local ecosystems.

– Increased risk of fire or explosion.

Some toxins only need one release to become dangerous to the environment.

The Ohio train derailment that happened on February 3rd, 2023, was one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.

The train was full of toxins similar to the ones in the trailers at Clean Harbor. Over 40,000 aquatic animals were killed as a result. 

For more information on the Ohio train derailment, read our article: Catastrophic Train Derailment Causes One of The Worst Environmental Disasters in US History.

One can only assume this event contributed to the current environmental crisis going on in the United States because of continued abuse through toxic chemical spills.


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