Authorities say thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate due to massive inferno of toxic fumes from a recycling plant known as a ‘fire hazard’. It could burn for days

Richmond, Indiana (CNN) A massive fire spewing toxic fumes from an eastern Indiana recycling plant described by the city’s mayor as a known “fire hazard” has forced evacuation orders for about 2,000 people as the battle to extinguish it is expected to drag on for days, city and state. Officials said.

Plastics were among the materials that started burning Tuesday at the Richmond plant, and a thick, black plume rose from the site — “definitely toxic,” Indiana State Fire Marshal Steve Jones said at a news conference.

“There’s a lot of different chemicals when a fire burns, that’s about it,” Jones said Tuesday evening, adding that he expects the fire to burn for several days.

“City officials knew operating here was a fire hazard,” Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said Wednesday. “It was a scare for us.”

The cause of the fire was not immediately known until it was extinguished. Officials said. No serious injuries were reported.

Tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mid-day Wednesday did not identify any toxic compounds. Styrene Or Benzene, air quality monitoring will continue as the smoke clears, said emergency response scene coordinator Jason Sewell. The agency collected measurements “overnight” and into Wednesday, monitoring particulate matter and looking for toxic chemicals.

Even before that, Brenda Jerrell “didn’t hesitate” to leave her home near the railroad tracks near the burning facility, she told CNN, “and the smell was already bad.”

“I had no shoes; I was wearing socks,” she said. “I left my wallet, my shoes — I left a lot of things, personal things, and got in the car and drove away.” Covering his mouth and nose with a mask, Jerrell is “still worried because they tell us we don’t know what’s burning and you can get irritated.”

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Rising smog and health concerns are a reminder of the inferno and the release of hazardous materials. A freight train derailed And this year’s fire in East Palestine, Ohio. Some chemicals were recorded in high concentrations during that disaster May cause long-term risksThe researchers said.

Indiana evacuation orders were issued for residents within a half-mile of the fire, and Jones said officials could change that if the wind direction changed. Residents downwind of the evacuation zone — in the east and northeast encouraged To bring shelter and pets indoors. About 35,000 people live in the city, about 70 miles east of Indianapolis, where shelters opened Tuesday, Snow said.

The Richmond Community School District canceled classes Wednesday and urged people to shelter in place.

The fire started in a semi-trailer before it spread to the facility, a fire official said.

Residents who found debris from the fire in their yards were asked “not to disturb or touch the debris” because “it is unknown what chemicals may or may not be in the debris,” Wayne County Emergency Management Agency officials said. said. They may contain asbestos, Sewell said.

Right now, the main health concern is smoke, Wayne County Health Department Executive Director Christine Stinson said Wednesday.

“These are very fine particles — breathing them in can cause all kinds of respiratory problems: burning eyes, chest tightness, it can make asthma worse, bronchitis and all kinds of things,” he said.

The EPA will be “absolutely” involved in monitoring air quality in Richmond, its administrator told CNN on Wednesday.

“We’re going to have an emergency response team on the ground and get what those results are quickly,” Michael Regan said, adding that the EPA was “on the ground hours after” the fire started. “We’ve been on site from the beginning, and we’re going to be there until we can be assured that this community sees no threat from air quality impacts here.”

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Experts say toxic pollutants can pose risks

N95 masks — Widely used type Stinson said the area — during the Covid-19 pandemic — is pretty safe against particulate matter, but if people see or smell smoke or experience symptoms, they should leave.

Global warming pollution Fires are certainly being evacuated, said former regional EPA administrator Judith Enck, now chief Beyond plasticIt aims to end plastic pollution.

“But the big issue is that when plastics are burned, dioxins are often formed,” he told CNN. EPA describes As highly toxic pollutants that can cause cancer and take a long time to break down.

Testing for dioxin should be done by state officials, he said, adding that “even small amounts can cause significant health harm.” phthalates, Bisphenols And Microplastics Released when plastic is burned.

“Plastics burn hot and fast,” Enck said. “A lot of chemicals can be released, so (plastic) shouldn’t be stockpiled.”

However, stockpiling at plastic recycling facilities is a common problem, he said, as reliable domestic markets are limited.

The 175,000-square-foot facility burning in Richmond is “completely full from floor to ceiling and wall to wall,” city Fire Chief Tim Brown said Tuesday.

Melted plastic and roofing materials were identified in photos by residents as officials insisted they not handle fire debris, Sewell said. EPA officials plan to sample the materials and send them off for testing, he said.

“Given the age of the building, some amount of asbestos-containing material may have left the site,” he said Wednesday. refers to Naturally occurring, toxic minerals have long been used in products ranging from home insulation to hair dryers.

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“We ask that people definitely not cut litter,” Sewell said. “If you find trash in your yard, leave it alone until we know more. And of course, don’t cut it.”

Smoke rises from a fire in Richmond, Indiana on Tuesday.

Fire puts firefighters in ‘defensive mode’

Firefighters responded to the recycling facility Tuesday when a semi-trailer behind one of the plant’s buildings was engulfed in flames, Brown said. An “unknown type of plastic” was loaded into the trailer, and the fire spread to other piles of plastic around the trailer and eventually to the building, Brown said.

Piles of plastic blocking access roads made it difficult for firefighters to get in, Brown said. “This creates quite a challenge because there is only access to one side of the building,” he said.

“Once the fire got out of control, it blacked us out, (and) we quickly retreated and then went into defensive mode,” Brown said.

The fire spread to several buildings on the site, but crews were able to stop the fire before it could jump into residential areas, Brown said.

“It’s the biggest fire I’ve ever seen in my life,” Brown said.

One firefighter was released from the hospital after injuring his ankle in the fall, Brown said, and no other injuries were reported. Everyone who was said to be working in the building was accounted for when crews responded to the scene, he said.

CNN’s Michelle Watson, Jamie Gumbrecht, Rachel Ramirez and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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