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Residents near Indiana warehouse fire may have asbestos on their property, EPA says

Firefighters walk out of the site of an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., on Wednesday.
Michael Conroy
/
AP
Firefighters walk out of the site of an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., on Wednesday.

Federal officials are telling people near the site of an Indiana warehouse fire that broke out last week not to touch any debris they find on their property since it may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen.

"It is essential not to remove or disturb any debris believed to be from the fire as these materials may contain asbestos, a substance that releases microscopic fibers when disturbed," the Environmental Protection Agency said in a fact sheet for local residents posted on Sunday.

The large industrial blaze at a former plastic recycling plant in Richmond, about 70 miles east of Indianapolis, was quickly contained by firefighters but still prompted an evacuation order for nearby homes and businesses. The site is located near the border with Ohio.

Testing of some debris samples from the fire confirmed the presence of asbestos, the EPA said, and the agency was working with professionals in Indiana and Ohio to remove the hazardous material.

The EPA said it began collecting debris at schools, day cares and city parks on Saturday and that it was also working with state and local officials on a plan to collect debris from nearby homes.

People who suspect that debris from the fire ended up on their property are being encouraged to call the Richmond Community Helpline and also register their information with the EPA.

Asbestos was used in some building insulation materials until the 1980s, and some items that burned in the fire contained the microscopic fibers, the agency said.

"Due to the weightless nature of the substance, these materials were lifted into the air as the smoke rose and fell back to the ground as debris."

Separately, the EPA said it was continuing to monitor and take samples of the air around the clock and confirmed that on Friday it detected the presence of benzene, which is also harmful to humans, in the evacuation zone.

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said earlier last week that the owner of the former business on the site, My Way Trading, had been ordered to clean up the property but ignored the order.

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Joe Hernandez