EPA: Superior Battery agrees to clean up site of June fire

Cleanup is expected to begin in October

Superior Battery, the owner of the warehouse at 919 E. Benton St. that caught fire in June, has reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct cleanup at the site, the EPA announced in a news release.

“We are excited,” Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes said of the cleanup agreement. “This is the position that the city and the fire district wanted to get to. This is a good deal, and it is what we have been working toward for the last six weeks or so. It’s not going to be a cheap process, but the owner of Superior Battery has the wherewithal financially to fund the cleanup. The EPA will make them provide a plan as to how they are going to do it and then they will approve it or make changes.”

The EPA entered an administrative settlement agreement and order on consent with Superior Battery to clean up the warehouse in Morris, which contains various types of batteries, solar panels, waste electronics and other materials. The administrative settlement agreement and order on consent is a legal document that formalizes the agreement between the EPA and Superior Battery addressing the company’s responsibility for the site, according to the EPA website.

Superior Battery will perform the cleanup under EPA supervision and submit work and safety plans to the EPA, according to the release.

The agreement requires Superior Battery to clean up hazardous and potentially hazardous substances from the burned materials at its warehouse. Superior Battery must consolidate hazardous substances and contaminants, package and ship all batteries in accordance with Department of Transportation rules and perform sampling and analysis of waste, soil, burned material, asbestos, storm water and air, according to the release. All wastes will be shipped off-site for disposal. EPA will monitor and oversee Superior Battery’s compliance with the order.

“There has never been a sampling of the material that has to be cleaned up,” Steffes said. “All we have been able to go on is just visual inspection, so they are going to do some chemical testing in order to see exactly what they are dealing with.”

The cleanup process will not begin overnight, Steffes said. The cleanup is expected to begin in October, according to the EPA release.

“They are going to have to get some equipment in there before they start, so there will be some activity over near the site,” Steffes said. “We don’t want the residents to worry. It’s for the cleanup. ... Once the cleanup starts, there will probably be pretty consistent activity at the site, depending on the weather.”

Morris Mayor Chris Brown was pleased with the announcement.

“I want to thank the residents for their patience,” Brown said. “I have full confidence in the oversight of the EPA and the Morris Fire Department that this will be done correctly.”

About the Morris battery fire

On June 29, a fire broke out in a Morris warehouse owned and operated by Superior Battery, prompting the evacuation of up to 4,000 residents, which lasted for four days.

Superior Battery’s Morris warehouse, located adjacent to a residential area, held up to 90 tons of lithium batteries and other materials. Lithium batteries are a safety and fire hazard because they contain a flammable electrolyte and may become pressurized when damaged, causing them to rupture, according to the EPA’s release.

Morris firefighters initially began dousing the fire with water until a Superior Battery employee told them that the building contained lithium batteries, which explode when they meet moisture, Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said at a news conference about the fire in July. After consulting with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and other experts, firefighters used Portland cement from a local business to quell the flames, the Morris Herald-News previously reported.

Superior Battery also is facing a lawsuit filed Aug. 24 by the Illinois attorney general and Grundy County state’s attorney. The lawsuit alleges that Superior Battery’s actions posed a substantial danger to the public’s health and welfare, as well as to the environment, according to an August news release from the attorney general’s office. The lawsuit also includes allegations of air and water pollution and unauthorized waste disposal, according to the release.

Rob Oesterle

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years. He is currently also writing news for the Morris Herald-News.