Fire continues to smolder at a gutted Euclid Chemical plant in central Illinois, and state and federal environmental officials have been called in to monitor the situation, which remains an emergency.
The Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies have had emergency responders on the scene since the fire began Saturday, advising local authorities on extinguishing the chemical blaze and monitoring air quality around the plant, Illinois EPA Public Information Officer Maggie Carson said Wednesday (Oct. 13). EPA also expects to play a significant role in the eventual clean-up.
Local authorities requested the EPA’s assistance, but “even if not invited, we would probably monitor the situation anyway,” said Carson. “There were a lot of chemicals.”
Smoke Visible for a Mile
Euclid Chemical’s products include industrial and architectural coatings, curing and sealing compounds, and concrete and masonry admixtures.
The Illinois plant produced a variety of epoxy-based products, a company spokesman said. Chemicals on site included flammables, corrosives, oxidizers and benzenes, according to EPA. Local fire officials decided to let the fire burn itself out, which it was expected to do by about Tuesday.
However, smoldering and hot spots remained Wednesday, keeping the situation in emergency phase for a fifth day, officials said.
‘Releases You Can’t See’
EPA initially advised residents up to a mile away to remain indoors and try to avoid a massive plume of black smoke emanating from the blaze. By Tuesday, however, the indoor air and outdoor air in the area had equilibrated, with similar air quality, so there was no longer reason for residents to stay inside, Carson said.
Although the black smoke presented an obvious hazard, “there are other releases that you can’t see,” said Carson. “Those are the bigger concern.”
On the other hand, the area has not been windy and the plant has “a good buffer” around it, which are both helpful to the community’s air quality, she said.
“Euclid’s contractor remains on the property to contain the site and control any runoff by use of a perimeter berm and recovery sumps,” Illinois EPA reported. Cylinders of acetylene, oxygen, and nitrogen were removed Tuesday.
The blaze broke out shortly before 6 a.m. Saturday at the 38,000-square-foot plant, located in a remote rural area two miles from the small town of Sheffield. None of the plant’s 15 employees was on site at the time.
More than 27 fire departments responded to the blaze, some coming from 2½ hours away, officials said. Several firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation.
No cause of the fire has been determined. Those investigations—by authorities and by the company—cannot begin until the site has been declared safe, officials said.
“The Illinois Fire Marshal’s Office is waiting until the opportunity presents itself that they can access the building and look for evidence determining the cause and origin,” said Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson. Meanwhile, investigators are working to “gather whatever information they can.”
Sheriff’s deputies remain on the scene until authorities can determine whether there was criminal involvement in the fire.
Euclid Chemical’s brands include Euco, Eucon, Dural, Speed Crete, Baracade, Increte and Tamms. The company said it expected no disruption in supply distribution or service from the fire.
“We are fortunate that Euclid Chemical has the capacity to manufacture a significant portion of these products at our other manufacturing facilities,” said company spokesman Joshua Robbins. “Furthermore, existing inventories should be adequate to service customers for a period of time without interruption in availability.”
He added: “Significant internal and external resources have been engaged to put us back to manufacturing products supplied from Sheffield. These resources include modification and use of manufacturing capabilities at other Euclid Chemical and RPM International Inc. manufacturing facilities across the country. We are also working with third-party manufacturers to ensure our supply of quality products.”
The plant’s 15 employees will receive pay and benefits through the end of the year, Robbins said.