"The nation’s environmental watchdog needs to enact the strongest possible protections for workers and fenceline communities".
"On January 11, neon-green corrosive ash rained down onto homes, businesses, and schools in La Salle, Illinois, following a fire at the Carus Chemical Company. Residents nearby were advised to shelter in place as the harmful chemicals fell from the sky. After the ash storm finally ended, they were told it was safe to leave their homes and return to their normal lives. But for people in La Salle, there is no easy return to normal.
The scene was straight out of a disaster movie. The reactivity of the chemicals used at Carus makes them prone to catching fire, exploding, and oxidizing. For 10 hours, the fire raged, billowing black smoke that rose hundreds of feet in the air. When the heat of the fire could no longer carry the toxic dust any further, the green ash spread across the town and began accumulating on top of the Illinois River, in trees and local flora, and swirling in the air, landing on people, cars, lawns, and homes.
La Salle resident Jamie Hicks was outside when the explosion happened. As a trained hazmat responder, he jumped in his truck to see where the blaze had originated. He turned on his windshield wipers to remove the ash, and streaks of green smeared across his window. In total, nearly 10,000 people were affected by the fire and the fallout. As community members saw dust gather, they were initially told it was too dangerous to touch. Then, the local police department advised the public to clean up the mess themselves by pouring a mixture of water, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar on the ash to “deactivate” its danger. Concerned, Hicks called his local emergency responders who admitted that they had a single generic fire response plan for the 39 industrial facilities in their district."
Hannah Lee Flath and Sonya Lunder report for Sierra magazine February 11, 2023.