Update 3 | Flames engulf Sant’Antnin recycling plant, no casualties reported

Firefighters battle large fire that engulfed a part of the Sant’Antnin recycling plant in Marsascala • Flames can 'take days' to extinguish • Public urged to make more use of bring-in sites

Flames have engulfed the Sant Antnin plant and a huge plume of smoke is visible from all over the island (Photo: Marc Edward Pace)
Flames have engulfed the Sant Antnin plant and a huge plume of smoke is visible from all over the island (Photo: Marc Edward Pace)
Photos: Marc Edward Pace
Photos: Marc Edward Pace

The flames that have engulfed the Sant’Antnin waste treatment facility could take days to extinguish, according to Home Affairs minister Carmelo Abela.

The minister confirmed that a magisterial inquiry had been opened and would seek to verify whether the cause of the blaze was accidental. He confirmed that the incident had left no casualties.

Abela was addressing an impromptu press conference, together with Environment minister Jose Herrera, at the Sant’Antnin Family Park, next door to the waste recycling plant.

Abela said that while members of the Civil Protection Department had succeeded in preventing the fire from spreading, they were now working to completely extinguish it.

Owing to the magnitude of the fire, Abela said that the necessary human resources were being dedicated, with a coordinated effort involving the Police Force, the Armed Forces of Malta, the Civil Protection Department, as well as NGOs, currently underway.

The minister appealed to members of the public to avoid the area.

Abela also said that the direction the smoke was travelling in did not necessitate the evacuation of residents in the vicinity.

“Though there is a lot of smoke, there is currently no danger that the fire will continue spreading,” he said.

Herrera said that the fire had started at roughly 1.30pm in the plant’s Refuse Derived Fuels (RDF) section or materials recovery section – the part of the facility where recycled material is stored and processed – and had so far not spread to any other section.

According to Herrera, the storage of RDF materials always involved a “certain amount of risk” and that it was ultimately “a modus operandi” that WasteServ had inherited.

WasteServ CEO Tonio Montebollo explained that a part of the material is exported after it is separated and that for this to take place it must be batched, with the process taking place on a regular basis.

Herrera also pointed out that this incident was one of the reasons that the plant was being dismantled, adding that moving it to the “engineered landfill” in Maghtab will “minimize the risk” of a similar incident.

Asked what precautions were in place to prevent such an occurrence, given that it was not such an unlikely scenario, Montebello said that the facilities employees had been trained in fire-fighting and that the plant’s reservoirs where always full and ready for such a situation.

Efforts, he added, were constantly being made to minimize the amount of stock kept on-site, and that in some cases, materials were kept in glass containers to minimize the risk of combustion.

“Disciplinary measures have also intensified with respect to employees smoking within the grounds of the premises,” Montebello added.

Health Directorate warning

The emissions from the plant are a mixture of gases, chemicals and fine particles from burning waste. People who have heart or lung diseases, like heart disease, lung disease, or asthma, are at higher risk if they are exposed.

To decrease the risk from exposure to smoke and particles, persons living in the vicinity are advised to:

  • Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed;
  • Contact your doctor if you experience any health effects such as shortness of breath and other respiratory symptoms. Call for further advice if your symptoms worsen;
  • Further communities may be affected depending on the wind direction which is currently blowing north-northwest at 8 knots according to MET office;
  • For further information, contact the Health Promotion and Infectious Disease Directorate helpline on 21324086.

Recycling green bags will be collected tomorrow Tuesday

GreenPak informed the public that the green/grey bag collection will take place tomorrow, Tuesday as normal.

As the facility’s capability for sorting mixed recyclable materials has been significantly compromised, GreenPak urged the public to make more use of the bring in sites until the situation returns to normal.

GreenPak CEO Ing Mario Schembri stated: “We remain committed to keep recycling of waste going despite this unexpected setback.  Thankfully there are other options and we urge the public to separate glass, plastic, paper and metal by using the respective colour coded and marked bins at bring-in-sites. This will serve to help alleviate the need for mechanic sorting that was carried out at Sant’Antnin facility.”

“In the light of this emergency situation, GreenPak will be increasing the frequency of emptying bring in sites. We urge the public to call on 2166 0233 or email at [email protected] if a particular bring-in-site has reached its full capacity.

GreenPak said it will continue to provide recycling services, while keeping the public up to date about any developments.