The recycling plant in Richmond, Indiana has continued to burn since it erupted in flames on Tuesday, and 2,000 residents remain under evacuation orders.
Per CNN, firefighters have spent the past two days attempting to put out the fire, which forced thousands of people to leave their homes. Public schools in the city remain closed, and anyone beyond the half-mile evacuation radius surrounding the plant has been informed to stay inside. “If you are downwind of the area, stay inside, close your windows, and turn off air conditioning," said city officials.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to detect toxic compounds, results are expected to be released later on Thursday. However, Indiana state fire marshals have already suggested that the dark smoke plumes coming from the fire are “definitely toxic.” There’s not much wind in the area, too, and the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency has noted, “Residents may notice that the smoke from the fire has settled more in and around the city and in areas that had not previously had issues."
Residents of the city have grown increasingly considered about the smoke, which hasn’t let up since Tuesday. Fine particles in the smoke could cause respiratory problems, and the age of the buildings means that asbestos is another potential concern.
“These are very fine particles and if they are breathed in can cause all kinds of respiratory problems,” said Wayne County Health Department director Christine Stinson on Wednesday. “It could aggravate asthma. It could cause bronchitis and all kinds of things.”
City officials have placed the blame on the owners of the plant, and it has been highlighted that numerous fire hazards at the plant were ignored prior to the disaster. “We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when this was going to happen,” said the fire chief.
The building was cited by Richmond’s Unsafe Building Commission in 2019 because the “cumulative effect of the code violations present” meant "the premises unsafe, substandard, or a danger to the health and safety on the public." The owner, Seth Smith, even admitted one of the buildings that make up the plant didn’t even have a fire extinguishing system. “Everything that’s ensued here–the fire, the damages, the risk that our first responders have taken, and the risk these citizens are under–are the responsibility of that negligent business owner,” said Richmond Mayor Dave Snow.
The Richmond building commission ordered him to repair or demolish the properties in 2019, but he petitioned a court to review the order. Ultimately, an Indiana circuit court judge ruled in favor of the city.