Cleanup begins after La Salle fire as residents voice concerns about chemicals in air

Chemical plant manufactures potassium permanganate, which can accelerate burning of explosive material once it catches fire

ByDiane Pathieu and Maher Kawash WLS logo
Friday, January 13, 2023
Cleanup begins after La Salle fire as residents voice concerns about chemicals in air
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A representative from Carus is calling Wednesday's chemical plant fire a blessing with everyone making it out safe and only property sustaining damage.

LA SALLE, Ill. (WLS) -- A representative from Carus is calling Wednesday's chemical plant fire a blessing with everyone making it out safe and only property sustaining damage.

"You saw the video footage, you saw what was going on ... man, we are so fortunate," said Adam Gibbs, with Carus.

The fire department officially left the scene around 12:30 p.m. Thursday and said that the emergency has ended.

WATCH | Officials answer questions amid residents' concerns about chemical plant fire

The cause of the fire is still not determined but officials said there are no signs of suspicious activity.

Now, the city is focusing on making sure residents are safe from any chemicals that may have ended up on their property.

However, some neighbors have concerns.

The residential neighborhood around the plant appears to have been covered with chemicals.

Carus has set up a hotline for La Salle residents at (815) 224-6662.

A shelter-in-place was ordered for several hours as a precaution, but has since been lifted.

La Salle is about 94 miles southwest of Chicago.

Authorities give afternoon update on La Salle chemical plant fire

Residents are free to go about their normal business Thursday, heading to work, school or just going about their regular routine, as officials work to find out what happened.

Video of a fire ball during the incident has been widely shared on social media.

The blaze shook buildings and homes, and sent debris flying into the air.

"I pull up to the stop sign, and hear a loud explosion," witness Khaleef Hammad said.

Chopper 7HD flies above chemical fire

Hammad was just a block away from the plant when he captured the moment it caught fire.

"Oh it was loud. It was multiple explosions. Not just one, it was quite a few," he said.

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The chemical plant manufactures potassium permanganate, which is non-combustible, but can accelerate the burning of explosive material once it catches fire.

It's used to purify air and water.

Residents shared photos of a substance coating their homes, yards, decks and cars.

"When I hit the windshield wipers, it looked black to me, then it turned green and now it's like a brown color. And it's caustic. I know what it is; they know what it is," said resident Jamie Hicks.

A viewer shared pictures of what she said the substance did to her yard furniture. It appears to show it rusted out with a hole eaten through the furniture -- which she said has been since the fire.

"It sounded like it was raining, so I put my hand out, and it was ash coming down," resident Alex Lopez said. "At first it was black, then it turned green, so then I went through the car wash. It had stained the windshield a grey or brown film."

Resident Tammy Lopez saw the same thing.

"They were all just covered. Our garbage can lid, you can see black spots everywhere," she said.

Cody Burroughs, a State Farm agent in La Salle, jumped in to help when he heard about the explosion and film the chemicals were leaving behind.

"At that time, we're like, well let's get some supplies, and, whether you are insured with us or not, swing on by. We'll spray your car off for you," he said.

As firefighters contained, then extinguished the chemical fire, a representative with Carus Chemical tried to reassure residents.

Massive fire erupts at LaSalle chemical plant

"Some of the material that was released during the incident is used to as a drinking water material," said Carus Vice President Allen Gibbs. "If you come in contact with that material, it can cause staining on the skin. The stain does not pose a health threat.

Officials are warning residents to avoid green residue that has been seen in the area. The La Salle Police Department said an oxidizer, which appears green in color, has been released. Police said not to touch the substance, and that it can be deactivated.

"In order to deactivate it, you will need a 1:1:1 mixture of: 1 gallon of water, 1 gallon of peroxide, 1 gallon of vinegar," police said.

A viewer shared pictures of what she says the green residue substance from the La Salle chemical plant fire did to her yard furniture.

The same solution should be used if skin comes into contact with the material.

A toxicologist from Rush Hospital said its important to not mix in other types of cleaning detergents.

"Because you don't really know what you're mixing. You don't want to create like new chemical cocktails," said medical toxicologist Dr. Jenna Nikolaides.

The same goes for any lingering dust that may be sitting around for your pets or a young child to mistakenly touch.

"Just like anything else, if anything gets on your pets -- limit that exposure and to wash it off just like you would if it got on your person," said Tony Falcone with the Illinois EPA.

Carus said it's working with local car washes and companies to help residents get this stuff cleaned.

As environmental workers monitor the air and water for any possible contamination, the mayor of La Salle is thankful, acknowledging it could have been worse.

"Thank God (it was a) situation where nobody (was) killed or seriously injured ... miracle in itself," Mayor Jeff Grove said.

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One firefighter was slightly injured at the scene of that massive blaze, which broke out about 9 a.m. at the plant, located at 1500 Eighth St.