The owner of a Richmond, Indiana plastics recycling plant is at fault for a massive ongoing fire and toxic smoke that’s polluting the area, according to city officials.
Seth Smith, the plant’s owner, was ordered by Richmond officials to repair or demolish and vacate the unsafe plant in 2019, CNN states. At least one building on the property didn’t have a fire extinguishing system.
No workers injured
The fire started April 11 in a trailer that was loaded with plastics, which then spread to surrounding piles of recyclables before reaching a building that was packed full “from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall” with more recyclable materials.
Firefighters who arrived to fight the blaze had difficulty reaching the buildings because the facility’s access roads were blocked by piles of plastic.
No workers were injured in the fire, and all were accounted for after emergency responders arrived at the scene.
The cause of the fire is currently unknown, but city leaders were concerned over fire hazards and building code violations at the plant since at least 2019.
“We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when this was going to happen,” Richmond Fire Department Chief Tim Brown told CNN.
Surrounding community evacuated, schools closed
The fire is expected to continue for several more days while spewing potentially toxic smoke and ash into the air.
Air monitoring is being conducted around the clock by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to concerns regarding contamination from asbestos and toxic chemicals that are released from burning plastic.
Because of the potentially toxic air, an evacuation order remains in effect for the 2,000 residents who live within a half-mile radius of the plant. Those who live downwind of the evacuation zone were urged to shelter in place and avoid smoke exposure. Schools in the area have also been closed.