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I-TEAM: EPA begins multi-million dollar cleanup at toxic Richmond fire site

RICHMOND, Ind. — After seven months of waiting, people in Richmond watched Tuesday as crews started cleaning up a toxic fire site.

The flames at a business storing plastics for recycling sent a dangerous smoke plume into Richmond. Winds carried smoke from the scene into the Miami Valley.

>>PREVIOUS COVERAGE: PHOTOS: Large-scale fire continues to send plumes of black smoke into air in Richmond

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set up shop in trailers for what is expected to be a months-long project, estimated to cost more than $3 million.

The News Center 7 I-Team found mixed emotions from the community. People are worried about what contaminants could be kicked up as the EPA moves the piles of debris.

The EPA told the I-Team that the cleanup will not pose a threat to the public.

“We always take the proper precautions to ensure that, again, what we’re doing stays on-site, what we clean up stays contained,” Allen Jarrell, U.S. EPA On-Scene Coordinator, said.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Richmond Toxic Fire: EPA shares debris sample results

The EPA will only be cleaning up two-thirds of the site. As the I-Team previously reported, the city of Richmond bought the sections at a tax auction for a total of $500. That’s where the EPA said they found levels of asbestos, benzene, and lead. It’s those things that have them taking care of the cleanup there.

“We’ve estimated and budgeted for the removal of the costs a little over $3 million,” Jarrell said.

Seth Smith, the business owner who was storing plastics used to own all three plots. Now his, LLC just owns one plot. The EPA said they’ve found other hazardous contaminants there, but not enough of those materials to concern them or for the federal agency to clean it up.

The I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, reached out to Smith’s most recent attorney on record asking if he plans to clean it up. He also asked the city of Richmond if they’ll take on the cleanup of the one section and, if they do, how they would pay for it. We’re awaiting a response to both requests.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Richmond Toxic Fire: Residents concerned about how long cleanup process will take

Members of the community like Andrea Day said she’s relieved to see the EPA begin cleaning the site up.

“It’s a big eyesore, so it’d be great to be cleaned up. It’s probably nothing good for anybody to be breathing, so I’d love to see it cleaned up over there,” Day said.

Weather permitting and aside from holidays, EPA crews will work five days a week until their finished with this job.

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