WASHINGTON – Thousands of people were evacuated after a fire broke out at a plastic recycling facility in the US state of Indiana, sending a towering plume of what officials said was “definitely toxic” smoke into the air.
The fire in the city of Richmond was under control but still burning on Wednesday, officials told a news conference, a day after it first ignited at the facility.
Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said they had found no toxins so far but stressed that they were not testing inside the evacuation zone for safety reasons and suggested that the heat of the fire may be keeping any toxins high in the air.
Some of the toxins the agency is testing for but has not yet found can cause cancer, EPA official Jason Sewell said.
Earlier, state fire marshal Steve Jones had described the blaze to journalists as “definitely toxic.”
A local reporter said the smoke smelled “like tear gas.”
Residents have been warned against touching or moving any debris that might end up in their houses or yards, with officials warning that some materials may contain asbestos and other toxins.
The evacuation order remained in place as of Wednesday, with emergency management officials telling AFP that some 2,000 people were affected.
One firefighter has been injured but there have been no other casualties so far, Richmond mayor Dave Snow told the news conference.