Baltimore City Fire Department Releases Cause Of Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant Explosion


Smoke billows from the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant on March 15. (Credit: Baltimore County Fire Department/ Twitter)

BALTIMORE COUNTY - The explosion and subsequent two-alarm fire that destroyed parts of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in March was caused by dust clogging a sewage sludge dryer and igniting, according to the Baltimore City Fire Department.

The report, first obtained by the Baltimore Sun, says that one of the dryers caused a spark that ignited the dust. A small fire within the clogged sewage sludge dryer then ignited thermal oil, triggering an explosion.

This new information contradicts a prior Maryland Department of the Environment report made a week after the explosion offering a "working theory" that the fire was caused by hot oil escaping from a broken pipe.

Synagro, the company operating the plant, promised to perform its own in-depth study of the fire's cause in a statement to the Sun.

"Synagro is intimately familiar with the inner workings of our facilities. Synagro's investigation will be a thorough root cause analysis which will provide an in-depth look at the event," Baroldi wrote. "This step takes more time to complete due to the level of detail."

What Happened?

Firefighters responded to the 8200 block of Eastern Avenue in Baltimore County around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15, for reports of a fire.

After arriving on the scene, crews found that the east side of the building was blown off, leaving a massive gash in the facility.

The explosion ripped a large gash in the side of the facility. (Credit: Baltimore County Fire Department/ Twitter)

Fortunately, all seven onsite workers were safely evacuated, and no injuries were reported.

According to Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost, crews first entered the building around 2:00 p.m. She said that crews dealt with multiple fires within the building and that the structure was so damaged that fire crews were later evacuated for their safety.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, around 12,000 gallons of thermal oil were present at the facility. The remainder of the oil was allowed to burn off during the incident. MDE later clarified that no hazardous materials were involved, and the explosion caused negligible environmental impact.

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