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Richmond residents concerned about air quality as toxic fire could burn for days

A massive toxic fire in Richmond has many residents in the area concerned about how safe the air they are breathing is.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been on the scene of the fire at a plastics recycling facility since Tuesday.

The EPA’s air monitoring found solid particles and liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.

The agency is also monitoring the air for products of combustion expected from a plastics fire including carbon monoxide, benzene and hydrogen cyanide.

Aaron Hutchison, a chemistry professor at Cedarville University, said while these chemicals can all be deadly he doesn’t anticipate them being released in lethal amounts to those outside.

“It would be extremely unlikely you’d have enough of it to actually get a lethal concentration, or even a very dangerous concentration, it should be dissipating,” Hutchison said.

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Benzene is also known to be carcinogenic, especially with long-term exposure, Hutchin said, but he doesn’t believe someone would get a high enough concentration from one fire to cause cancer.

In instances like this people can come down with health issues like a burning sensation with they’re breathing and a tightness in their chest.

He said EPA and EMA officials are trying to determine what exactly is being released into the air and until they do the evacuation order will stay in place.

Families like the Snyders are having to stay at emergency shelters set up by the Red Cross until they can return home.

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“We’re pushing through. we’re grateful for the Red Cross, but I’d rather be home,” Wendy Snyder said.

For many who had to evacuate, this is their first time in this type of situation, and the Red Cross knows that.

“Just comfort and a cot, a place to stay, food and a chance to talk to somebody if they need it,” Dana Mollonkopf, Red Cross volunteer said.

Wendy said when they returned to their home briefly to grab some items she noticed the smell of burning plastic.

“There is a stink in the air when you go outside on our porch. In fact, it burned my throat because weren’t wearing a mask,” Wendy said.

The EPA said the evacuation order will stay in place until results from debris samples are available and show no hazard.

We will continue following this story and update as new information becomes available.



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