Expired marine distress devices, like these handheld red flares, can deteriorate and threaten environmental damage or increase fire risks. FILE PHOTO

Flare disposal bill is a hot topic online



ELLSWORTH — A bill in the Maine Legislature aimed at establishing a safe way to dispose of expired marine flares has become a hot topic on the internet.

On Monday, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was scheduled to hear testimony on LD 430 sponsored by Rep. Joyce “Jay” McCreight (D-Harpswell), who chairs the Marine Resources Committee.

The bill would require the commissioner of public safety, working with fire chiefs around the state, to establish a system for collecting out-of-date marine flares and storing them on a short-term basis until they can be disposed of by incineration.

LD 430 also calls for the Department of Public Safety to set up an education program to inform the public and state agencies, including several state natural resources agencies, about the flare disposal program.

In most respects, McCreight’s proposal is similar to a bill she sponsored in 2017. LD 252 was passed by the 128th Legislature but vetoed by Governor Paul LePage, who considered it an unfunded mandate to the state fire marshal.

The Senate voted unanimously to override the veto, but the House, with a tally of 82 in favor and 62 against, failed to reach the two-thirds vote needed to enact the law.

The Coast Guard requires that commercial and many recreational vessels carry approved marine distress signal flares on board. The approvals expire 42 months after the flare’s date of manufacture, so the vessel operator must bring new flares onboard.

For boaters, the question is, how to get rid of the “expired” flares that contain toxic pyrotechnic ingredients and that can burn as hot as 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit.

So far, no one has come up with a good answer, but discussion of McCeight’s bill has provoked plenty of discussion online.

In an online newsletter last week, Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy said “(i)f passed, (LD430) would make Maine a national leader on an issue that has vexed boaters, government, and environmental advocates for decades. It solves the huge dilemma of how to safely dispose of these hazardous materials.”

BoatUS is the largest recreational boat owners group in the nation, but its opinions don’t have universal approval.

Responses to a story about the bill on the widely read sailing website Scuttlebutt were largely dismissive of the idea, suggesting that expired flares could be part of a fireworks display on July 4 or at other times provided that Coast Guard was notified in advance so there would be no mistaking ebullience for an emergency.

Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), a member of the Marine Resources Committee, found much the same sort of reception to LD 430 on her Facebook page.

Still, the issue is a serious one.

Testifying in favor of LD 252 McCreight said, “The most common suggestion for getting rid of expired flares is take them to the Coast Guard, your fire department, your transfer station. The Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary no longer accept flares. Transfer stations are not typically set up to deal with this hazardous waste, nor are many fire departments, particularly volunteer fire departments.”

The result, as many vessel owners can attest is that expired flares stay on the boat, where they may be inoperative when needed, or end up ashore in basements, barns and sheds, where they pose serious fire hazards.

The best way to dispose of outdated flares appears to be high-temperature incineration and disposal of the byproducts in accordance with Department of Environmental Protection requirements, the method called for in LD 430.

Two years ago, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas testified against McCreight’s proposal. According to Thomas, his office has had a procedure in place since 2004 for dealing with expired flares. When notified of the need, he said, a fire marshal investigator would pick up the flares, which would then be stored in the marshal’s explosives magazine in West Gardiner and, “at an appropriate time,” be disposed of by burning in the office’s explosives incinerator.

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