A fire burning at a waste treatment plant in Richmond, Indiana, has largely been extinguished, but hundreds of people are still evacuated from their homes as crews check the air for chemicals and collect potentially dangerous trash from nearby schools and homes, officials said. faces on Saturday.
Richmond residents who live within a half-mile radius of the recycling plant – about 2,000 of Richmond’s 35,000 residents – have been under mandatory evacuation orders since Tuesday, when a massive inferno exploded at the Richmond plastic waste recycling plant, sending thick, black smoke overhead. territory.
When they can return home will largely depend on whether it is safe to breathe the air in their community. Officials warned that the smoke from the fire was “definitely toxic”, forcing the closure of Richmond Public Schools for several days as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted air sampling and control testing in the area.
Saturday was originally expected to announce when evacuation orders could be lifted, but the City of Richmond later said that no decision has been made. “We have another meeting in the morning to determine the best time to cancel the evacuation order,” Mayor Dave Snow said. said Saturday evening.
“Unfortunately, we cannot give an exact time when the evacuation order will be lifted. As air monitoring results come back from lab testing and they can be analyzed by our health experts, we hope we can allow residents to return to their homes,” Wayne County Emergency Management officials said Saturday.
Those downwind of the fire were asked to continue to take shelter in place “if they feel they are in danger or find themselves in a plume of smoke,” emergency officials said.
More meetings and data analysis are needed before the evacuation order can be lifted, Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown told CNN Saturday.
As for the fire itself, Brown said firefighters had extinguished 98-99% of the fire at the processing plant as of Saturday.
“Right now, there is no plume, no products escaping from the fire itself,” Brown told CNN. “What we have is mostly white smoke or a bit of steam. We don’t have a loop. We have a light wind that sort of pushes things out.”
There are hotspots inside the facility and occasional small fires that will continue to smolder for days and give off smoke, soot or the smell of burnt plastic, emergency officials said.
In the meantime, work is underway to clear the garbage scattered around the village from poisonous fire.
Some debris samples from the area have tested positive for materials containing asbestos. This was reported by representatives of the emergency services of Wayne County.citing preliminary EPA tests.
“Because all the debris has the potential to contain asbestos, it is important that a trained professional remove all materials believed to have originated from the fire,” emergency officials said, asking residents not to touch or touch any debris they find on their property.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring but highly toxic substance that was once widely used for insulation. When inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers can enter the body and eventually cause genetic damage to the body’s cells. Exposure can also cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Crews in protective gear began picking up trash at three schools near the site of the fire on Saturday, including three schools in Richmond and one school in Ohio.
Officials said schools hit by debris would be cleared first, and then contractors would use drones to search rooftops for additional debris.
“Once the school grounds have been cleared, these contractors will begin removing debris from residences, parks and/or public areas, and businesses,” the city said in a statement.
The county said the EPA is engaging federal contractors to assist with proper cleanup and removal of visible debris in both Indiana and Ohio.
According to Kristin Stinson, head of the Wayne County Department of Health, the main health concern for residents is particulate matter, which, if inhaled, can cause breathing problems.
Chemicals in the center of the fire zone hydrogen cyanide, benzene, chlorinecarbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, or VOC, have been detected, the EPA said Friday. The department clarified that they were not found outside the evacuation zone.
Potentially harmful volatile organic compounds were also detected in six air samples, the agency said, without specifying where the samples were taken.
The agency said particulate matter was also found inside and outside the evacuation zone for half a mile, as expected.
In addition, in one of two air samples taken just over a mile from the fire site, chrysotile asbestos in the wreckage, an EPA spokesman said Thursday. Also called white asbestos, chrysotile asbestos can cause cancer and is used in products ranging from cement to plastics and textiles.
In terms of water quality, tests are underway downstream of the fire and officials say they “have not found anything to cause immediate alarm, including any sign of fish mortality.”
Crews did find some ash and loose plastic debris, “but weir booms have been installed that successfully trap this material. Similarly, Indiana American Water also closely monitors drinking water and does not report any unusual readings or test results.” This was reported by representatives of the emergency services of Wayne County..
The cause of the fire is still being investigated and will likely not be known for several weeks, officials said. But local leaders have shared concerns since at least 2019 about hazards and building code violations, records show.
The mayor accused the plant owner of ignoring the city’s cleanup order, saying the plant was a fire hazard.
CNN has asked plant owner Seth Smith for comment. A lawyer who previously represented Smith in the related lawsuit declined to comment.