The metal recycling industry is challenging – especially in the area of safety and fire prevention.

Take the recent large fire at the Northern Metals Recycling plant in Becker, Minnesota, which burned for several days before being extinguished. The fire sent billowing plumes of smoke into the air for days causing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to “monitor the ambient air for particulate matter,” at four locations near the plant.

While the cause of the fire at the Becker metal recycling plant is still under investigation, a week before the Becker fire erupted, fire inspectors cited Northern Metal’s facility in north Minneapolis for a variety of code violations related to its outdoor storage practices.

The code violations at Northern Metal’s facility in Minneapolis include towering piles of metal, lack of an emergency response and fire safety plan, storing combustibles under high-voltage transmission lines, and not having proper fire lanes cleared and marked, among other things.

In addition to fire prevention being top of mind for metal recyclers and others within the recycling industry, Dominic Spadafore, associate vice president at Hoefer Wysocki Architecture said the latest safety practices have expanded beyond sharp objects and large machinery.

“We’ve recognized pollution, hazards from the processing of materials, and the negative effects of contaminants on human and environmental health,” Spadafore said. For example, due to off-gassing and airborne pollutants, special attention should also be given to ventilation techniques, any prevailing winds, as well as down-wind environments. This is especially important in the case of a fire.

As part of this initiative, captive air ventilation and wind stream analysis are an increasing part of a lot of recycling plant designs.

“Wastewater capture and pre-processing also are crucial features that ensure water is treated before reaching sanitary sewer systems,” Spadafore said. “Significant progress is also being made with safety features on mechanized sorting machines. These provide much higher productivity and reduce accidents for recycling facilities looking to further mitigate material safety issues.”

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