A fire that started Tuesday afternoon at a recycling plant in the eastern Indiana city of Richmond was emitting toxic smoke and has forced evacuation orders for about 2,000 people as it is expected to burn for days, officials said.
Early air monitoring results are expected early Wednesday, Wayne County officials said. Plastics were among the items burning at the plant, and the smoke is toxic. Burning plastic can release toxic chemicals such as dioxins into the air and groundwater, health officials say. The cancer-causing chemicals benzo(a)pyrene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons can also be released, they say. The smoke may also contain asbestos due to the age of the building.
Personnel from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management were in Richmond on Tuesday night evaluating the fire, Mayor Dave Snow said.
The blaze started after 2 p.m. when a fire ignited for unknown reasons at the 175,000-square-foot facility and burned through mounds of plastic, Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said. He said the origin was a tractor-trailer, although it wasn’t clear whether its cargo was the main fuel.
The fire spread to six structures on the property. It was contained at nightfall but that crews will remain on the scene as it continues to smolder. The fire chief said they will be fighting this fire on site until at least Saturday.
The individual owner had been warned “several times” that the piles of plastic items and parked trailers were a fire hazard. “We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when this was going to happen,” Brown said. Richmond is a city of around 35,700 about 71 miles east of Indianapolis and about 40 miles west of Dayton, Ohio.