As summer is in full swing, and with the cornucopia of fireworks and bad decisions that lay ahead for some, fires may be top of mind. We all know firework safety: 1. bucket of water 2. flip flops (no bare fee), 3. reckless disregard for personal well being. Sound familiar? The one safety piece in that list was water, water is the cure all for fire right? Well when it comes to Pesticide Fires, is it Water to the Rescue?
It might seem like it should go without saying, but we all know somebody out there needs to hear it, don’t burn pesticides! Yes, pesticides can be flammable and many Labels will say “Do not use or store near heat or open flame”. Make sure pesticides are stored in an area that does not get overly hot. Also avoid being near an area where you may do things like welding or other activities that could shower sparks. Remember many pesticides have an oil/petroleum base, meaning it can ignite fairly easily. Proper storage can make a world of difference. You must also dispose of empty containers properly. Do not burn old jugs or bags, as those may have pesticide residues still in them.
Pesticide fires have a few unique dangers to consider. Some products may be more than flammable, they may be pyrotechnic and explode. Colorful explosions in the sky can be great, but on the farm or home, less so. The fumes put out by burning pesticides can also be toxic and harmful to people. It might even require special gear from the fire department. The ash, smoke, or fumes from these fires can be toxic to plants, animals, and other living things as well. The residue that is left behind could also be toxic, so even once the flames are gone, danger can remain.
Checking the hazardous status of your pesticides beforehand, properly posting these hazards, and developing a plan can all make a difference. The faster you can communicate to first responders, the faster they can deploy the proper plan to address the fire. Always check the Safety Data Sheet for each product you store and share that information with first responders. If you are on site of a pesticide fire, don’t try to be a hero and fight the fire before help arrives. Clear the area, secure the site, and wait for professionals.
This all sounds scary and you are thinking, can’t I just dump water on this so it isn’t a newsworthy event? Can’t I put this out myself with our spray rigs and all that water on site? Although you aim may be worthy, stopping the damage before it is too bad, you could be doing harm. The main problem is that water can make things much much worse.
Water and oil don’t mix. Much like grease fires should NEVER be put out with water, pesticide fires can act the same, depending on what is in the pesticide, so strike one for water. You also run the risk in using water with spreading pesticides by that water strike two for water. If the fire melted jugs or caused pesticide to spill, adding water could push it towards drains or spreading away from the site. Create a dike, or some kind of barrier to contain water from spreading, if water is safe to use. This is why leaving this to the professionals is best, they will know what to do. Sometimes the smoke created if you use water can be worse than letting it burn, strike three for water…it might be out! Always consult the SDS and possibly your local fire crew or hazardous waste consulting to develop your own plan. Water might be good, might be bad, consult the professionals to find out for sure.
For more information about creating fire plans and who to contact in case of a fire check out the Pesticide Fires publication our office has. Water is a precious resource, and great for most fires, but hit the pause button for pesticide fires. Store your pesticides properly, create a plan, and clearly communicate the risks associated with the pesticides you use. Unlike the enjoyable, yet questionable relationship with danger many of us take during the 4th of July festivities, take pesticide fire safety more seriously. Remember if you have a Pesticide Fire, it may not be Water to the Rescue.