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EPA testing harmful substances in air at Richmond fire site

RICHMOND, IN (WISH) — Thousands on Thursday remained under an evacuation notice in the city of Richmond as harmful smoke spewed from an industrial fire that began Tuesday afternoon.

The mayor of Richmond has said a negligent business owner was responsible for the fire.

Burning plastic materials were causing the fire to continue producing harmful substances. An evacuation order remained within a half-mile radius of the My Way Trading building at 358 N.W. Fifth St.

The former business recycled plastics and has been cited by the building commission for violations of being unsafe.

At a press conference Wednesday, Richmond Mayor David Snow revealed that the city bought part of the property to keep the owner accountable for cleaning up the clutter at the site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the air around the clock, testing for hazardous substances that can be released when plastic is burnt. The agency has found particulates, such as dust, dirt, smoke, and soot, in the air and is also testing for carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and chlorine. Those living within the evacuation zone have been told to leave the area as soon as possible for their safety.

The EPA was providing updates online as it monitored the smoke from the fire for these items: particulates, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, benzene, chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and mineral acids including sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.

“Overnight, EPA continued air monitoring and sampling in the city of Richmond. EPA is also monitoring air near New Paris, Ohio. Mobile air monitoring locations were chosen based on wind direction. Yesterday, wind direction was coming from the southwest traveling north/northeast. Cooler temperatures and a cooler fire overnight caused more ground level smoke. Wind direction also changed overnight traveling north/northwest. Air monitoring at ground level continues to detect particulate matter, as expected from a fire.

“The city of Richmond and IDEM are in the lead for managing water runoff from the scene. The city is collecting surface water samples at the Middle Fork East Fork Whitewater River and will share results with EPA.

“EPA is waiting for debris sample results to determine whether asbestos-containing materials may have left the site. EPA reminds residents to leave any debris alone and not touch it until EPA sample results are back. Do not mow over the debris. Once officials determine the nature of debris, new information will be shared as soon as it’s available.”

Environmental Protection Agency online post at 11 a.m. April 13, 2023

Christine Stinson, executive director of Wayne County Health Department, stressed the importance of following the evacuation order and avoiding smoke exposure. She warned that smoke is harmful and that everyone, especially older people and those with heart and respiratory conditions, should avoid breathing in the air.

“We are stressing to the public to honor the evacuation zone. It’s for your safety that the evacuation zone is there. And if you can see the smoke, you’re in the smoke. Get out of the smoke,” Stinson said.

The EPA is working closely with residents and has started air sampling and checking water quality in different parts of the community.

People living outside the evacuation zone have been urged to shelter in place, keep windows and doors closed, and turn off heating, ventilation and air conditioning units if they draw outside air. They are also advising people to keep their pets indoors.

The EPA has also been escorting residents who need to return to their homes for medical needs. Those needing assistance have been asked to call the Wayne County Emergency Management helpline at 765- 973-9300.