July 1, 2021: Up to 4,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes on June 30 after up to 100 tonnes of lithium batteries exploded at a former paper mill in Morris in the US state of Illinois, local and international media reported.
The paper mill was owned by a firm called Superior Battery, according to CBSN Chicago. But there is no connection with the well known US lead battery firm called Superior Battery Manufacturing Co Inc based in Kentucky.
As this news bulletin was released the fire was still not entirely out because firefighters had decided to let the blaze burn out rather than risk causing more explosions: it is notoriously difficult to extinguish lithium battery fires because when they come into contact with water, they explode.
According to news agency AP (Associated Press), between 80 to 100 tonnes of batteries exploded with a noise that could be heard across the city on Tuesday night, having been stored at the unused paper mill without the knowledge of the fire department or other city agencies.
They ranged in size from cellphone batteries to large car batteries, the agency said.
“Firefighters stopped using water on the blaze minutes after they arrived when they discovered the batteries because water and firefighting foam can cause batteries to explode,” the report said.
“Crews will not be sent to battle the fire because of the unknowns about what’s inside.”
Residents from some 950 homes were told to stay away for two days.
“Many types of lithium — lithium ion phosphate being the most obvious one given its lack of metals of value — are uncommercial to process,” says one commentator. “We’re hearing a lot of anecdotal evidence that many in the industry are simply stockpiling them until an efficient economical solution to their disposal can be found.
“If they are not warehousing them properly they are a very real and present danger to everyone.”