La Salle resident Joe DeBernardi and his brother-in-law spent their Thursday morning cleaning off their cars, following a Wednesday morning fire at the Carus Chemical plant, less than half a mile away.
They were not alone. Wednesday’s fire at the Carus Chemical plant in La Salle left many residents with their houses, cars and driveways covered in a chemical substance released from the plant.
DeBernardi, who lives on Zinc Street, said the oxidant was all over his property, including his cars, sidewalk and air conditioning unit.
“I don’t know what the long term effect of this will be,” DeBernardi said.
The substance is an oxidant called potassium permanganate and it appears as a brown-orange, green or purple color depending on its state. While the material is reportedly non-toxic and used in drinking water, people are instructed not to touch it, said Carus Vice President of Operations Allen Gibbs.
Sonya Lunder is a senior toxics advisor for the Sierra Club, a non-profit environmental group. Lunder said the oxidant, while used in drinking water, still is a corrosive chemical that can cause harm depending on the concentration.
Lunder said the good thing about this chemical pollutant is it’s visible, making it easy to know who is affected. She said the changing colors of the oxidant don’t indicate levels of harm.
Because it’s a corrosive chemical, Lunder said the longer it sits on cars or mailboxes the more likely it is to corrode. She doesn’t recommend deactivating it with a solution because of the safety hazard of mixing chemicals.
Carus officials said Thursday afternoon the safest way to wash the chemical is to use water. Officials initially suggested a 1:1:1 mixture of a gallon of water, a gallon of peroxide and a gallon of vinegar to remove the oxidant.
Lunder said the oxidant soon will be depleted, meaning it will naturally evolve into a non-harmful mineral form. Within the next few days, Lunder said it will reach its mineral state and no longer pose a health threat.
Burroughs State Farm Financial at 362 Third St. in La Salle is offering to clean anyone’s car who needs it. Agent Cody Burroughs said it’s something he wanted to do to help out the community. Since Wednesday afternoon, the office has cleaned more than 30 cars who have stopped in for help.
Josh Robeson’s truck was affected in Mendota, and he traveled the 30 miles to Burroughs so he could get it cleaned. Robeson acquired his truck two weeks ago and is worried the oxidant will corrode the paint. As he traveled to La Salle on the interstate, he said he saw the chemical running in streaks of pink and purple off his car.
Juan Niedo visited Burroughs from Zinc Street in La Salle because his car was covered in the oxidant. He said it also was in his driveway, and he was unsuccessful at cleaning it on his own.
“I’m scared, everyone is scared,” Niedo said. “The chemicals and the contamination is the problem.”
Peru resident Jim Giordano also was effected, saying his wife’s car was parked in La Salle when the fire happened. He said he called his insurance company and is hoping to get more questions answered.
“My main concern is the misinformation and confusion about the material and if it’s hazardous,” Giordano said.
If you live in the La Salle area and believe the chemical fire may have damaged or in some way affected your property, make sure to document any evidence of the damages with photographs and contact your insurance company for their recommendation, said the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency. Questions related to the chemical can be directed to Carus Chemical’s hotline number at 815-224-6662.
EPA representatives have been involved with response and mitigation efforts at the plant.
“Our thoughts are with the nearby communities, chemical plant workers, and first responders who have been exposed to these harmful chemicals,” Lunder and Illinois Director Jack Darin said in a statement. “Incidents like the explosion and subsequent fire at the Carus Chemical plant serve as a stark reminder that people living near these facilities continue to be in harm’s way during both normal processes and emergencies.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle
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