More than 30 hours after it began, a massive fire a plastics recycling plant in Hickman County is nearly extinguished, and residents could soon return home.
The fire broke out around 10:15 a.m. Wednesday at the Industrial Plastic Co. Inc. site, which used to house the Wrigley Charcoal plant, at 8526 Plant Rd. in Lyles, TN.
The recycling plant sits on a contaminated federal Superfund site. Superfund sites were created for the cleanup or removal of areas in which hazardous toxic waste was dumped.
Crews fought the fire by smothering it with dirt, rather than spraying it with water, to ensure potentially contaminated runoff didn't reach a nearby creek.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring air quality around the fire, and officials say there have been no concerns of toxicity.
"There are no chemical concerns with the gas or with the smoke because it's been burned off by the fire," said Jeremy Heidt with TN Emergency Management. "It's going to come down as soot. It's going to be something that could be inhaled and would be an irritant to anybody that has respiratory issues."
In a 4 p.m. press conference Thursday, Hickman County Mayor Steve Gregory said the fire is now about 95 percent contained.
Approximately 300 people who live within a 1 1/2-mile radius of the plant were evacuated, and East Hickman schools were closed Thursday.
Gregory said those who live on the west side of Lyles can return home immediately, and the hope is that by 6 p.m., everyone else can return home.
East Hickman schools will be open as normal on Friday.
Gregory said every indication shows there is nothing residents should be alarmed about, but he advises caution in that if you touch anything outside, you should wash your hands well.
The American Red Cross established a shelter Wednesday evening for evacuees at the Fairfield Church of Christ in Centerville but closed it Thursday since residents should be able to return home.
One person was arrested for looting Wednesday night, so sheriff's deputies closed some homes near the plant overnight.
Federal Superfund sites were created to clean up areas that contain hazardous toxic waste. The EPA website said the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant, located northwest of Highway 100 about 45 miles southwest of Nashville, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1989 because of contaminated debris, ground water and soil in the county of about 24,000. The Superfund area includes a 35-acre primary site and surrounding areas comprising about 300 acres.
According to the EPA website, the Superfund site was home to various industrial operations, including iron, charcoal and wood distillation product manufacturing, beginning in 1880. Contaminants of concern at the site include wood tar chemicals, metals and volatile organic compounds.
Plastics have been recycled at the site for more than a decade, and workers were at the site at the time the fire broke out. All were able to escape without injuries.
The assessment of just how much damage the fire caused hasn't even begun yet, and the cause of the fire has not been determined at this time.
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