Last summer, Representative Jay McCreight* received a question from a local lobsterman about what to do with a barn full of expired marine flares or “Visual Distress Signals.” She called Friends of Casco Bay to ask about the potential environmental impacts from flares. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca began looking into the issue, with the help of University of New England student interns Iliana Flefel and Grayson Szczepaniak.
The United States Coast Guard requires marine vessels greater than 16 feet in length to carry at least three flares to use in the event of an emergency. These emergency flares expire within 42 months from date of manufacture and must be replaced.
This has led mariners to stockpile expired flares, often for years, trying to figure out how to get rid of them. Right now, there are no good options for Maine boaters to dispose of expired flares, which can still be explosive. Boaters have tried soaking expired flares in a bucket of water, shooting off flares at sea (especially on the Fourth of July), or throwing them in the trash. None of these practices are acceptable because pyrotechnic flares are classified as “hazardous wastes.”
Flares contain toxic chemicals that may harm human and marine life. Potassium perchlorate interferes with thyroid function, which regulates a person’s metabolism, including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Strontium may create toxic gases when burned. Sulfur has been shown to contribute to more acidic conditions in the ocean.
We learned that the only safe way to dispose of expired flares is by incineration at high temperature. Fortunately, the State Fire Marshall’s office has an EPA-approved mobile incinerator that can be used for this purpose, which was originally purchased to incinerate fireworks.
To authorize the State Fire Marshall’s office to design a program to collect and incinerate expired flares, Representative McCreight has introduced a bill to the 128th Maine Legislature: LD 252 An Act To Improve Safety in the Disposal of Expired Flares.
On March 13, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca testified before the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety in support of the bill.
Should LD 252 continue to move through the legislative process, we may suggest you contact your legislators to support the bill.
* The State Representative for District 51, which includes Harpswell, West Bath, and part of Brunswick