Cleanup needed on Ragged Mountain after batteries spilled from helicopterBatteries exploded on impact, sulfuric gel released
Rockport — Six lead acid batteries, weighing more than 100 pounds each, were dropped from a helicopter onto Ragged Mountain near the Snow Bowl and cell tower property, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The helicopter was taking the batteries to the Verizon cell tower when the accident occurred, according to DEP Director of Communications Jessamine Logan. It was reported to the state Tuesday, Oct. 22.
All but one of the batteries exploded on impact, caught fire and spilled their contents including sulfuric gel, she said. Camden and Rockport fire departments were not called, according to both fire chiefs. Camden Chief Chris Farley said dispatchers at Knox County Regional Communications also were unaware of the incident.
Altogether, about 700 pounds of batteries were dropped and 68 pounds of sulfuric gel was lost on the mountain. According to a safety sheet about lead acid batteries, the material is considered carcinogenic. Exposure "may cause irritation of eyes, nose and throat. Contact with eyes and skin causes irritation and skin burns," the safety sheet states.
"Tuesday afternoon Verizon Wireless was able to quickly identify the location of the fallen batteries on private property owned by the cell towers’ landlord. We immediately secured contractors (Clean Harbors) to conduct a thorough cleanup, which is expected to be completed Thursday [Oct. 24], and are continuing to work closely with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to keep them informed of developments," Verizon spokesman Michael Murphy said in a written statement.
Murphy said the batteries ensure, in the event of a commercial power outage (due to a winter storm for instance), cell service remains uninterrupted. He said Verizon uses a contracted helicopter to transport equipment to a cell site that has unique access challenges, like a mountaintop tower.
Each battery caused a debris field of 1,000 feet around the impact area with pieces of the batteries in the trees, Logan reported. Murphy indicated the debris field was smaller and vegetation in the area was mostly unscathed.
One battery remained mostly intact, having landed on soft peat moss.
DEP responder Jeremy Greenman has been on the scene, investigating the spill. Clean Harbors has been hired to clean up on the mountain and was expected to be there Oct. 24.
Logan did not know the name of the helicopter company. She said either the company or Verizon will be responsible for paying for the cleanup.
Staffers at the Snow Bowl indicated the spill was high up on the mountainside. A phone message left at Camden Snow Bowl seeking further information has not been returned.
The site of the telecommunications tower is a 15-acre parcel of land owned by the communications firm Wavesource LLC, according to previously published reports.