One of the primary objectives set out in the revised guidance is to enable a fire to be extinguished within 4 hours, in the majority of cases. Whilst we understand that during an incident things may happen, which are beyond an operator's control, the site should be set up and managed with this objective in mind.
Extinguishing a fire within 4 hours is important because inhaling any smoke from a waste fire can be harmful to human health. Our role as a regulator is to minimise the impact of emissions on the local community, as well as the environment and critical infrastructure.
Since 2009 the Environment Agency has also had a role, working with partners, to monitor and assess air quality during major incidents. We know that air quality, where the public are at large, can be affected at least 1km from the site of a fire.
During the majority of waste fires, people nearby will be advised to shelter indoors. Over time, sheltering will become less effective and also the feasibility of continuous sheltering becomes unrealistic, especially for vulnerable groups. Those most at risk include children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with existing medical conditions relating to heart, lung or liver disorders.
Research on the effectiveness of sheltering during major incidents
In addition, Public Health England is carrying out a joint research project with BRE Global to look at the effectiveness of sheltering in the during major incidents. The project is investigating methods of estimating indoor exposure to chemicals from major incidents including fires.
This project will allow a specialist review of the impact of major releases of contaminants, taking into consideration outdoor dispersion in urban areas, building exposure, ventilation, infiltration and attenuation. The indoor exposure is dependent on external pollutant concentrations, type and rate of pollutant infiltration into buildings and indoor losses of contaminants by various routes.
Support from the Chief Fire Officers Association
The EA spoke to the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) to get their view on waste fires and how they impact on the Fire Service. The CFOA figures show that the overall trend of waste fires over the last 10 years has remained consistent at around 250 incidents per year and the overall cost to fire and rescue services is estimated to be in the region of £16 million a year. Even smaller sites can generate disruption to local infrastructure and communities should a fire occur, and fire service resources can be tied up on such incidents for many hours or days.
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