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Hazardous materials, including biological hazards

Hazard Knowledge

Hazardous substances or materials, including chemicals, paints, batteries and oils, may be involved in a waste fire. Some of these may be unknown by the site operator or not marked. At illegal waste sites, there may be a higher risk of finding hazardous substances and materials with little or no information about the contents.

Contact with hazardous substances and materials may have short and/or long term health risks depending on their nature. These risks may result from contact with substances that are:

  • Toxic
  • Corrosive
  • Flammable
  • Carcinogenic
  • Mutagenic
  • Explosive

These items can be particularly hazardous as there is an increased likelihood that there will be a mixture of various substances. It may be extremely difficult to assess the resultant effect when exposed to high temperatures.

There is the possibility that during firefighting actions, substances may mix and react together, resulting in other hazards such as toxic or flammable gas, volatile explosive mixtures or exothermic reactions.

Radioactive materials and discarded pyrotechnic devices or ammunition may also be present.

Additionally a number of biohazards may be present in refuse, including:

  • Clinical waste, including hypodermic needles
  • Animal waste
  • Animal carcasses
  • Human waste
  • Bacterial and viral infections such as leptospirosis (Weil's disease), hepatitis C and tetanus

Some waste sites have special facilities for dealing with needles and bio-products. The presence of these hazards should be obvious at these sites and the operators should be able to advise on appropriate actions.

At non-specialist sites or illegal sites, the exact contents of waste are often unknown. It should be assumed that general household waste and other scrap materials might contain sharps and penetration hazards.

The enormous volume of waste produced by modern society and the restriction of landfill opportunities have encouraged widespread recycling. This includes processing organic waste material, which could be for composting, or for use in processes such as anaerobic digestion or mechanical treatment.

Whenever organic waste material is treated and handled, bioaerosols (short for biological aerosol) may be generated. Bioaerosols are suspensions of airborne particles that contain living organisms or that were released from living organisms. This also applies to handling livestock manures and bio-solids. Exposure to bioaerosols can lead to respiratory sensitisation and respiratory diseases.

For further information refer to National Operational Guidance: Hazardous materials and National Operational Guidance: Operations - Biological hazards.