Up to 2,000 residents of an eastern Indiana city are still waiting to find out whether it is safe to return home as a two-day conflagration at a plastics recycling company that a state judge labeled a public health concern fizzles out. Residents were still required to evacuate on Friday, and officials will meet on Saturday to discuss the results of the water and air samples.
The duration of the order will depend on the outcomes, Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said on Friday. Snow added, “I need everyone to remain away from this spot. The site is still very dangerous, even though the fire is under control.
The US Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday that the chemicals hydrogen cyanide, benzene, chlorine, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, were found at the center of the fire zone, with “none… detected outside of the evacuation zone in the community.” It advised firefighters to take precautions.
Six air samples were discovered to have potentially dangerous VOCs. The agency said the samples “will be submitted for laboratory analysis and results will (be) reported early next week.” As expected, it stated, particulate matter, or tiny smoke particles, was discovered both inside and beyond the half-mile evacuation zone.
Chrysotile asbestos was discovered in debris in one of two air samples collected less than a mile from the fire scene, an EPA official reported on Thursday. It is also known as white asbestos and is a carcinogen found in a variety of items, including textiles, plastics, and cement. According to EPA spokesman Jason Sewell, anyone who could have fire debris in their yard shouldn’t cut their lawns until authorities can offer more guidance on how to clean it up.
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At 18 locations around the fire, the EPA has been checking the air for harmful compounds from burned plastics. Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said that “any type of plastics that you would imagine was in this facility,” despite the state fire marshal describing smoke plumes as “definitely toxic.”
Crews will stay on the scene all weekend, according to Brown, who stated on Thursday night that the fire was under control but added on Friday that hot patches might continue to flare again. Two new contaminants were found at a hot spot overnight, according to Sewell, but when it was put out, no more were found.
This week’s billowing black smoke in Richmond brought to mind this year’s hazardous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Researchers have warned that the high concentrations of some chemicals from that tragedy could have long-term effects.
Friday is the third day in a row that the Richmond public schools have been closed since the fire started. “It’s unbelievable,” said resident Corey McConnell, whose family evacuated from their home. “Makes me concerned for my family’s health, both now and in the future.
Who knows how long it might hang in the air?
Although the cause of the fire is yet unknown, documents show that local leaders have been raising concerns about the building’s fire hazards and building code breaches since at least 2019. The fire chief added, “We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when this was going to happen.
Even after the fire is out, health issues increase
When McConnell’s family departed Tuesday night and they watched worn-out firefighters battling the fire, McConnell could already smell fumes. Wendy Snyder, a resident, left her home and went to a Red Cross emergency shelter, but she briefly went back home to get a few items, she told affiliate WHIO. She then became aware of the smell of burning plastic. When you step outside on our porch, there is a smell in the air, Snyder remarked.
Since we weren’t wearing masks, it burned my throat. According to Christine Stinson, executive director of the Wayne County Health Department, particulate matter, which are tiny particles contained in smoke and may cause respiratory issues if inhaled, is the main health worry for locals. N95 masks, the kind advised to prevent Covid-19, could shield against the particles, but Stinson advised people to leave an area if they noticed smoke, smelled it, or felt any symptoms.
City officials attribute the fire to the facility owner.
Accusing the plant’s owner of disobeying a city order to clean up the land, Richmond officials “were aware that what was operating here was a fire hazard,” Snow, the mayor, said on Wednesday. Seth Smith, the proprietor of Cornerstone Trading Group, LLC, has been contacted. Smith’s former legal representative declined to comment on the case.
An investigator got in touch with Smith on Tuesday night, according to Snow. The facility, which was “full from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall,” according to Brown, the fire chief, was eventually damaged by the blaze, which started in a semitrailer carrying plastics and then spread to nearby stacks of recyclables.
He claimed that when the firefighters arrived, the entry roads to the buildings were blocked by heaps of plastic. That negligent business owner is to blame for everything that has happened here, including the fire, the damages, the risk that our first responders have taken, and the risk that these residents are currently experiencing,” Snow said.
According to Brown, firefighters made every effort to preserve any potential evidence that might be used to identify the reason. According to the state fire marshal’s office, that conclusion won’t likely be made until investigators can securely enter the factory. According to city attorney Andrew Sickmann, any legal issues with the plant owner will be resolved after the cleanup is complete.
Law enforcement and prosecutors would decide whether or not there could be potential criminal culpability, he said. Before the fire, Sickmann said that the only activity occurring outside the structure was the removal of the materials and their shipment abroad, as instructed by the authorities.
Snow remarked of the owner, “It’s his mess, it’s been shown time and time again that it’s his mess.” “Everything that has happened here is still his fault,” In case of any litigation, he noted, the city is keeping track of all incident-related expenses.
A city panel had determined the facility to be unsafe.
According to meeting minutes acquired, Richmond’s Hazardous Building Commission determined in 2019 that the recycling facility’s “cumulative effect of the code violations present” made the “premises unsafe, substandard, or a danger to the health and safety of the public.”
According to the papers, Smith acknowledged during a committee hearing that one of the property’s buildings lacked a fire extinguishing system. Smith and his company requested a court review of the municipal building commission’s 2019 order requiring them to make repairs to or demolish and abandon their premises.
In March 2020, a circuit court judge in Indiana rendered a decision in the city’s favor. The court determined, in part, that Smith’s premises “constitute a fire hazard; are a hazard to public health; constitute a nuisance; and are dangerous to people or property because of violations of the statute and City Ordinance concerning building condition and maintenance.”
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Following Smith’s failure to pay property taxes, the city last year took possession of two of the three land parcels on which the recycling plant is situated. The company removed the automobiles from the premises, but it was unable to remove other items because the business owner was against their removal and disposal, according to Sickmann.
The materials also have a security interest from a bank, he added. The city and the proprietor of the business came to an agreement that permits the latter to “remove the materials and sell them under his normal course of business,” according to Sickmann.
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