Major scrap tyre fire in Bradford will have pollution impact ‘worse than Bonfire Night’
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When the fire started in the early hours of Monday morning (16 November) on Upper Castle Street, fire crews from across the district rushed to the blaze.
At its height, up to 100 firefighters were at the scene, tackling the flames from the tyres at the former go-kart track.
The fire was declared a major incident, with billowing smoke leading to the cancellation of trains to and from the nearby Bradford Interchange.
Roads, schools and businesses also closed and the impact of the fire was so large that smoke reached as far as Leeds.
And there are 17 schools in the city that are fully closed today including 10 primary schools, two secondary schools and a sixth form, with pupils having to resort to remote learning due to “dangerous levels of acrid smoke”.
While firefighters tackled the fire, university air quality data scientists from Leeds and Bradford Universities were called in by council chiefs to assess air quality.
With the results subsequently used by the Environment Agency to give them better understanding of exposure levels and monitoring spots and the overall wellbeing of people working on site.
Dr Jim Mcquaid, from the University of Leeds, was asked by Bradford Metropolitan District Council to attend on site on the night of Tuesday November 17.
He said his own measurements recorded were similar to Bonfire Night while other monitoring teams saw much higher readings.
Reflecting on attending the scene Dr Mcquaid, an Associate Professor of Atmospheric Composition, said: "It was a bit of a mad scramble to get our pollution sensors to the site, I was surrounded by fire service personnel in breathing apparatus.
"I was measuring on the upwind edge of the fire and my levels were similar to bonfire night, but [the other monitoring teams] would have been seeing much higher readings.
"In fact, I could smell the plume in Leeds on Wednesday afternoon as the wind turned more westerly, what we really need is some heavy rain to damp down this major fire."
The toxic chemicals produced from the blaze could have a damaging impact especially to people with respiratory conditions, warned Dr Mcquaid.
"Burning tyres are renowned for producing a pretty hideous cocktail of toxic chemicals, the smoke from this fire will have an impact on the local communities downwind, especially anyone with underlying respiratory conditions such as asthma," he explained.
Dr Mcquaid added the university had already been working with the Born in Bradford project, on air pollution exposure in primary school children. He said after visiting the fire, he placed a sensor in a community leader’s garden to continue monitoring pollution levels.
Meanwhile Dr Dhaval Thakker, from the University of Bradford, said he and his team developed air quality (AQ) kits, which they took to the site and focused on measuring the AQ at three different strategic locations.
One quite close to fire (50 feet away, under the smoke and wind), another 0.1 mile away, near the police station but away from wind and smoke, and the third 0.3 miles away in the line of fire, smoke and wind.
Dr Thakker, from the Faculty of Engineering & Informatics, said: “It was amazing to see up close the fire and emergency services dealing with what looked like a horrific and unending fire. We also got to see the kindness of Bradford people, as we were able to use the power supply from a nearby car wash."
Bradford Council added it was too early to assess the full impact of the fire, but that it would be “far-reaching”.
A spokesperson said: “As the fire is still on-going and the clean-up operation has not yet begun, it would be far too early to try assess the social and economic costs of this major incident, especially as it involves a number of public and private agencies and has multiple far-reaching effects on residents, travellers, businesses and schools.
“There is no doubt that this incident has had a huge impact on businesses and on the running of the city and we extend our sympathy to all those affected, but it is too early to assess the quantum of that.”
The council said yesterday (19 November) that it was allowing as many businesses as possible back to their premises and continued to advise people to keep their doors and windows shut.
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