Updated 7.15pm with Health Ministry warning
A fierce fire this afternoon destroyed a large part of Sant' Antnin recycling plant in Marsascala.
The blaze started at 1.30pm, produced a plume of thick smoke seen from all over Malta and even parts of Gozo.
No one was injured but the fire was still blazing in the evening.
Employees were evacuated as firefighters of the Civil Protection Department moved in, assisted by various volunteer groups.
The fire started in the Material Recovery Facility and spread to the main shed. The area, inaugurated in 2008, handles a large volume of plastic and requires personnel on site to operate.
The police said the bypass to Marsascala is closed to traffic.
Officials on site appealed for people to remain indoors as much as possible to avoid inhalation fumes which could be toxic. They said it could take several hours or even days to control the blaze completely.
The Health Ministry said emissions from this plant are a mixture of gases, chemicals and fine particles from burning waste. People who have heart or lung diseases, like heart disease, lung disease, or asthma, are at higher risk if they are exposed.
People living in the vicinity are advised to:
Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed.
Anyone feeling any health effects such as shortness of breath and other respiratory symptoms was urged to call a doctor.
The ministry said communities looking further away may be affected depending on the wind direction which is currently blowing north-northwest at 8 knots according to Met Office.
Enemalta, which has a distribution centre next door to the waste plant, said its engineers and technicians are on site to monitor developments. The distribution centre is functioning normally. Firefighters from St John's Rescue Corps, as well as from the Emergency Fire and Rescue Unit, are on site to help keep the distribution centre safe.
WASTE COLLECTION AS USUAL TOMORROW
GreenPak said collection of the recycling green and grey waste bags will continue as usual tomorrow.
"As this is an evolving situation, GreenPak will continue to provide recycling services, while keeping the public up to date about any developments."
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently reiterated the Labour Party pledge to shut down the plant and transform it into a family park.
The Partit Nazzjonalista urged the health authorities to inform the public of the health hazards associated with the fire, saying it was not enough to tell people to stay indoors.
"The plant handles large amounts of plastic waste which when burnt in the open air poses a serious health and environmental risk. The impact of the black fumes is not limited to the immediate area surrounding the plant but will be spread to different locations around the island depending on wind direction," it said, insisting that the fire could only be the result of mismanagement.
"If the plant were to be moved to Maghtab, as Muscat is pledging, the hazards associated with such a fire would be magnified. If the fire had to spread to the old dump, the hazards would multiply because of the mixed untreated waste dumped in the area over the years. This is not a matter of political gain but of public safety."