Fire at Popular Waterbury Recycling Center Releases Toxins into Naugatuck River


Courtesy of Deputy Fire Chief Richard Paltauf

Waterbury Fire Department’s Truck One with the aerial ladder set up to keep the fire under control. Heavy smoke arose during the fire Thursday.

Charlie Stock, Ag/FFA Reporter

Liquid petroleum and other potentially hazardous contaminants leaked into the Naugatuck River on Feb. 25 when a scrapyard fire broke out at Albert Brothers Inc. Scrap Metal Recycling Center, located on Waterbury’s East Aurora Street. 

The Waterbury Fire Department responded to the business, which has been a metal recycling plant since 1895, around 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning.

Petroleum is made up of hydrocarbons commonly found in gas, kerosene, diesel and many products that can be hazardous to the environment, potentially creating a huge environmental problem for the towns that surround the river. 

The Naugatuck River starts in Torrington and stretches 40 miles south through towns including Litchfield, Watertown, Naugatuck, Waterbury, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia, and Derby. The river then leads into the Housatonic River, which runs directly into Long Island Sound. 

Waterbury Deputy Fire Chief Richard Paltauf said that the department “notified the DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) … they conducted a water evaluation and determined that there was contamination in the river.”

To mitigate damage to the river’s delicate ecosystem, “the DEEP set up oil absorbing boom’s to collect the oil,” said Paltauf.

In addition to the contamination from the liquid spill, the fire generated an abundance of smoke, releasing additional pollutants into the local environment. 

Petroleum and many other hazardous liquids can release methane and benzene gases into the air. Methane is an odorless gas that will evaporate in the atmosphere and heat up making it a greenhouse gas. Benzene gas is a flammable gas with a sweet odor that will evaporate quickly in the air. 

Because of risks of methane and benzene being released into the air, DEEP partnered with the Connecticut National Guard, which set up air monitoring. Kenneth LeClerc, a member of the DEEP Emergency Response Unit, said, “although benzyne was released in the fire, this wouldn’t cause any harm because it would have evaporated in the heat.”

The quick response of the Waterbury Fire Department and the DEEP helped keep the spread of the fire and petroleum spill contained. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. No injuries from the fire were reported. 

A statement by Eric Albert, President of Albert Bros., released on the company’s website reads: “We take our environmental stewardship very seriously and we will investigate the cause of the fire. We are also grateful to both the Connecticut DEEP and our licensed environmental professionals, whose quick response helped minimize any environmental impact. Our preparedness and safety procedures born from 125 years of metal recycling experience were tested and thankfully today proved successful.”

Jerry Sudimick, a longtime resident of Seymour, owns waterfront property on the Housatonic River. He was relieved to find that the contamination was mostly contained.

“Thankfully it seems to be minimal,” Sudimick said. “There’s always a concern regarding the negative influences to the watershed and its wildlife, both in and along the shoreline.”