La Salle resident Joe DeBernardi and his brother-in-law spent Thursday morning cleaning their cars following a fire Wednesday morning at the Carus Chemical plant less than half a mile away.
They weren’t alone. Wednesday’s fire at the Carus Chemical plant in La Salle left many residents with their homes, cars and driveways covered in a chemical released by the plant.
DeBernardi, who lives on Zinc Street, said the oxidizer was all over his property, including the cars, the sidewalk and the 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 appears as an orange-brown, green, or purple color depending on its state. While the material is reportedly non-toxic and used in drinking water, people are told not to touch it, Carus vice president of operations Allen Gibbs said.
Sonya Lunder is a senior toxics advisor for the Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental group. Lunder said the oxidizer, although used in drinking water, is still a corrosive chemical that can cause harm depending on the concentration.
Lunder said the beauty of this chemical contaminant is that it’s visible, making it easy to tell who’s affected. She said the changing colors of the oxidant don’t indicate levels of damage.
Because it’s a corrosive chemical, Lunder said the longer it sits in cars or mailboxes, the more likely it is to corrode. She doesn’t recommend deactivating it with a solution because of the safety risk of mixing chemicals.
Carus officials said Thursday afternoon that the safest way to wash away the chemical is to use water. Officials initially suggested a 1:1:1 mix of one gallon of water, one gallon of peroxide and one gallon of vinegar to remove the oxidizer.
Lunder said the oxidant will soon be depleted, meaning it will naturally evolve into a harmless mineral form. In the next few days, Lunder said it will reach mineral status and no longer pose a health threat.
Burroughs State Farm Financial at 362 Third St. in La Salle offers to clean the car for anyone in need. Agent Cody Burroughs said it’s something he wanted to do to help the community. Since Wednesday afternoon, the office has cleared more than 30 cars that stopped for help.
Josh Robeson’s truck was affected in Mendota, and he traveled the 30 miles to Burroughs to clean it up. Robeson bought the truck from him two weeks ago and is concerned that the ruster will eat away at the paint. While traveling to La Salle on the interstate, he said he saw the chemical running in pink and purple streaks from his car.
Juan Niedo visited Burroughs from Zinc de La Salle street because his car was covered in rust. He said he was in his driveway too and he couldn’t clean it up on his own.
“I’m scared, everyone is scared,” Niedo said. “Chemicals and pollution are the problem.”
Peru resident Jim Giordano was also affected, saying his wife’s car was parked in La Salle when the fire broke out. He said he called his insurance company and expects more questions to be answered.
“My main concern is misinformation and confusion about the material and whether it is dangerous,” Giordano said.
If you live in the La Salle area and believe the chemical fire may have damaged or affected your property in any way, be sure to document any evidence of the damage with photographs and contact your insurance company for a recommendation, the Department said. La Salle County Emergency Department. Management Agency. Questions regarding the chemical can be directed to the Carus Chemical hotline number at 815-224-6662.
EPA representatives have been involved in 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 such as the explosion and subsequent fire at the Carus Chemical plant serve as a stark reminder that people living near these facilities remain at risk during normal processes and emergencies.”