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Propane tanks cause explosion at recycling center

An explosion at the Kent County Recycling Center last week was caused by three small propane tanks someone had tried to recycle. Photo courtesy Kent County.

Pictured are thethree small propane tanks someone had tried to recycle that are believed to be the cause of the fire. Photo courtesy Kent County.

By Judy Reed

Three small propane tanks, improperly disposed of, were the cause of an explosion inside a baler at the Kent County Recycling & Education Center at 977 Wealthy SW in Grand Rapids last Thursday morning, June 22.

According to Kristen Wieland, the Communications & Marketing Manager for the Kent County Department of Public Works, the explosion occurred at 7:45 a.m., shortly after they started up the sorting equipment for the day. Grand Rapids Fire Department was dispatched, and one Kent County staff person was taken for medical observation.

Grand Rapids Fire was called to the scene of this explosion at the Kent County Recycling Center last Thursday. Photo courtesy Kent County.

Wieland explained that there are a series of conveyor belts and other equipment that help move the recyclables through the plant. “The belts pass by 26 people around the plant who are each responsible for sorting specific materials. Fairly early in the sorting process, a strong magnet automatically pulls out ferrous metals. That’s where the propane tank would’ve gotten removed from the sorting line.

“The ferrous metals are dropped by the magnet into a storage area where they sit until we have a sufficient quantity to bale. Kent County staff was baling ferrous metals when the explosion occurred. Three of the one-pound propane tanks were found in the residue from the explosion,” she said.

“Though they’re considered disposable, small camping-style propane cylinders are not recyclable. With camping season upon us, it is critically important that these metal tanks be disposed of properly,” said Wieland.

Instead, propane tanks of all sizes should be brought for safe disposal to any of these locations:

  • South Kent Recycling & Waste Center, 10300 South Kent Drive, Byron Center
  • North Kent Recycling & Waste Center, 2908 Ten Mile Road, Rockford
  • Or any of Kent County’s SafeChem household hazardous waste drop off centers, listed at www.accesskent.com/waste.

Wieland added that it was nearly one year ago to the date of their last significant explosion though that one was less severe. A propane tank was also suspected as the cause of that incident.

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