FAQs: Covanta Fire

Energy Resource Recovery Facility

How many fires have taken place at Covanta?

In the waste industry, it is not uncommon to see small fires resulting from improper disposal of certain items such as fireplaces ashes. At Covanta Fairfax, the facility has experienced small fires in the past (2-3 per year). They are almost always localized and extinguished quickly. Since Jan. 2016, the Fire Department has responded to four fires at the facility, including the Feb. 2 event.

How did the fire start?

The Fire Marshal’s Office will conduct a full investigation. More details will be shared as they become available. The fire was extinguished on Feb. 14.

Was the building damaged?

Certain components of the building were damaged, such as the internal cranes, roof, and siding, while other elements were unharmed. An engineering assessment is taking place now to fully understand the extent of the damage.

How long will it take to rebuild the facility?

Until a full assessment has been completed and a recovery plan developed, we cannot accurately predict a full recovery plan. This information will be shared with the community as it is developed over the next few weeks.

Why was there no monitoring in the first place? How will you improve the facility so it doesn’t catch fire again? What are the existing fire-fighting system equipment on site that are available for immediate deployment? What changes will be looked at for any change in the design?

The Covanta facility is equipped with automatic sprinkler systems, fire hose stations and water cannons on the charging deck – the area above the waste storage pit. Covanta will be meeting with county staff over the next couple weeks to discuss a full recovery plan, to include repairing and enhancing existing equipment to better protect the plant and the community. Covanta is evaluating innovative technology for fire detection/fire suppression systems such as infra-red (IR) detection that works in concert with foam suppression.

Will the cost of repairs/improvements to the facility be passed along to the county via rate hikes?

No rate hikes are anticipated due to this event. Covanta and the county have insurance policies in place to cover losses due to fire.

Where are the third-party air monitoring stations located? Will all the data collected from Covanta’s third-party air quality monitoring stations be posted online where the public can access it?

Air monitors were placed on county property to the north, south and east of the facility. The results of the air monitoring will be reviewed by VA DEQ and shared publicly.

Has the EPA reviewed the fire impact? Is so, what is their position?

DEQ is not aware if U.S. EPA has performed any reviews regarding the impact of this fire event.

Who is the contact person at VA DEQ?

The Regional Air Compliance Manager for the Northern Region is Mr. R. David Hartshorn and the Regional Director is Mr. Thomas A. Faha. 703 583-3800.

What is Fairfax County doing to monitor air quality?

Covanta has set up ambient air monitoring equipment and will review the results with DEQ and will share this information with the community.

What third party resources can we bring in to give data/provide resources?

Third-party, expert consultant services will be brought in as necessary.

Did any firefighters seek medical treatment related to putting the fire out?

Six firefighters sought medical treatment for minor symptoms.

What costs will the county incur to move waste elsewhere as a result of the fire and interrupted operations? Will the county be reimbursed? Legally referred?

The county has back-up contracts with landfills in the state that are permitted to accept waste and for additional trucking services.  The County Attorney’s Office and the Department of Risk Management are reviewing the Solid Waste Management Program’s insurance policies and the contracts with Covanta to ensure the full  of use the protections provided in the those agreements.

What is the cost to the county per ton for dumping in King George?

The waste disposal fee at Waste Management, Inc.’s King George Landfill is $32/ton, which does not include transportation.  The total cost-per-ton for waste for disposal at the King George landfill, including transportation, approximately $60/ton, depending on the trucking company used to transport waste.  Some trucking service retained under emergency conditions can be marginally more expensive than services retained under normal county contracting policies.

What is the economic impact to the community?

The economic impact to the community will be limited.  The reason for this is because the Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) is self-funded, generating its own revenue from providing refuse disposal service for residents and businesses in the county.  The SWMP has engaged both the Department of Risk Management and the County Attorney’s office to evaluate opportunities to recover costs.

The county continues to provide uninterrupted disposal service allowing refuse to be collected from residents and businesses in a seamless fashion resulting in limited impacts, if any, to the community.  The SWMP continues to provide responsible waste management services upon which the community has relied for several decades.

What about doing an informal health assessment by canvassing homes near the incinerator?

Inhaling smoke and other fine particles can have immediate health effects, such as coughing, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, trouble breathing, chest pain or tiredness. However, given the short duration of this fire, it is unlikely that exposure to the smoke from this fire will cause chronic health conditions in otherwise healthy adults. Individuals who are experiencing heart and lung problems or other symptoms they are concerned about should consult with their health care provider. Concerns about family members or neighbors who are diagnosed with unusual diseases can be reported to the Fairfax County Health Department at 703-246-2433, TTY 711. For more information on the impact of smoke and other particulate matter on health, visit https://www.cdc.gov/air/particulate_matter.html.

How was the public notified?

The Office of Public Affairs director was on scene the night of the fire coordinating with the Fire Department’s communications personnel and local media. The FD’s Twitter feed was used to share information immediately. A news conference was held the following morning to leverage the power of the media to amplify safety messages. A website was created for the event, and updates have been posted there regularly. The link to the webpage was shared on social media. The county is looking at how the Emergency Alert Network (EAN) can be used during similar events.


What is being done to prevent odors?

Covanta is combating odor through the following measures:

  • Removing and hauling waste off-site for disposal at alternate locations
  • Deployed odor control mister system at east and west entrances to tipping hall
  • Applying odor control crystals on waste in the refuse bunker
  • Monitoring wind directions to ensure proper use of odor control
  • Pumping water out of refuse bunker into baker tanks for off-site disposal

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