Permit for firefighters to burn lithium-ion batteries near river raises concerns in Piqua

PIQUA — People in Piqua are concerned about the air and their drinking water due to certain training being done by the fire department.

The department is burning lithium-ion batteries at the city’s old water treatment plant, creating toxic smoke and residents that News Center 7′s Kayla McDermott spoke to Tuesday are worried about breathing it in.

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“I want the burning to stop,” Jeff Grimes, of Piqua, said. “The fire training is fine, but there’s no reason that they have to burn these batteries.”

Fire Chief Brent Pohlschneider said the department is using the training to prepare firefighters for things that affect firefighters when they go to respond to fires.

“We were also becoming more aware as the push for green energy was going on that there are a lot of issues going on with lithium-ion batteries,” Pohlschneider said.

He said the facility and training prepare firefighters for electric car explosions mainly caused by the battery.

“Case and point, we had an auto accident not too long ago with a Tesla,” he explained.

When the battery burns, the chemicals put in the air are leaving people wondering what could happen to them.

“They say for Piqua quality of place, quality of life. This is completely the opposite,” Diana Parke, of Piqua, said.

Dr. Joseph Allen, the Regional Medical Director of Premier Health, said burning the batteries can be dangerous for people nearby.

“When they catch fire, that becomes a problem. They can out gas and a lot of different things that are toxic, most notably hydrogen,” Allen said.

He said hydrogen gas is damaging.

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“They’re very detrimental to people to breathe that. They can result in a lot of respiratory issues and even contact issues, skin burns, things like that,” Allen said.

The Regional Air Pollution Agency (RAPCA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are involved in the training. Public Health signed off on the open burning of the batteries and Pohlschneider said areas like the water are tested for contaminants.

“If we were to happen to get something on the surface, there is a possibility it could go to the waterways,” Pohlschneider said. “So the measures were put in place where we put in retention basins.”

Still, the possibility of a serious toxin being in the water, air, or on land has left people pushing for the training to be moved somewhere else.

“I don’t think it needs to be done in the city limit. I don’t think it needs to be done by our water,” Parke said.

The department said they’re burning batteries a couple of times a month and they might start sending notifications out when they training happens.

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